Leukemia--Chronic Lymphocytic Overview

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Treating Leukemia - Chronic Lymphocytic (CLL) TOPICS

Monoclonal antibodies for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins (antibodies) that are designed to attach to a certain place on the surface of cancer cells. They can help kill the cancer cells, sometimes by targeting them for the patient's own immune system.

The monoclonal antibodies used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are:

Rituximab is often given along with chemotherapy as a part of the first treatment for CLL. Alemtuzumab and ofatumumab are more often used after other treatments stop working. Obinutuzumab is a newer drug that can also be used as a part of the first treatment for CLL.

All of these drugs are given as injections, either under the skin or into a vein (IV). Common side effects include fever and chills that occur while the drugs are being given into a vein. Less often, a more serious reaction, like low blood pressure, may occur while the drug is being given.

Another side effect is a problem with infections. For example, rituximab, ofatumumab, and obinutuzumab all can cause old hepatitis infections to become active again. That is why your doctor will check your blood for signs of an old hepatitis infection before treatment with either of these drugs starts. The risk of certain serious infections with alemtuzumab is so high that patients need to take antibiotics and antiviral medicines while on this drug.

Each drug can cause different side effects, so ask your doctor what you can expect.

More information can be found in the section “Monoclonal antibodies for chronic lymphocytic leukemia” in our detailed guide, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

Last Medical Review: 08/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/04/2014