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What's New in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research and Treatment?

Research on chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is taking place in many university hospitals, medical centers, and other institutions around the world. Each year, scientists find out more about what causes the disease, how to prevent it, and how to better treat it.

Most experts agree that treatment in a clinical trial should be considered for any type or stage of CLL. This way people can get the best treatment available now and may also get the new treatments that are thought to be even better. The new and promising treatments discussed here are only available in clinical trials.

Genetics of chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Scientists are learning a lot about the biology of CLL cells, such as details about the gene changes in the cells. This information is being used to help know whether treatment needs to be started, what type of treatment to use, which treatments are likely to work, and what long-term outlook can be expected. It's also changing the way CLL is treated. New treatments that focus on these gene changes are proving to have a great impact on the treatment options available and how well treatment is tolerated, as well as how well it works.

Learning about these gene changes is also helping researchers understand why these cells grow too quickly, live too long, and fail to develop into normal blood cells.

As doctors learn more about the many gene changes that can take place in CLL cells, they're looking at the need to break CLL into groups of sub-types. This could lead to better understanding of the many treatment outcomes seen in people with CLL today. It could also help researchers learn more about how CLL develops.

New drugs for chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Dozens of new drugs are being tested for use against CLL. Most of these drugs are targeted at specific parts of cancer cells (like gene changes in CLL cells).

Doctors are looking at the best ways to use these drugs, as well as how they can be used in combinations or along with chemo to get even better results. They're also looking at how these drugs might be used in elderly patients who may have health problems that keep them from getting standard chemo.

Vaccine therapy

The use of vaccines as cancer treatment is a research interest in many different kinds of cancer. These vaccines do not prevent cancer. Instead, they try to get the immune system to mount an attack against cancer cells in the body. Early studies are using vaccines made from the patient's CLL cells and a protein that stimulates the immune system to boost immune system's ability to kill the CLL cells. These studies are in very early phases, and it will take time before we know whether vaccine therapy works.

CAR T-cell therapy

CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy is another way of getting your immune system to find and kill CLL cells. The patient's T cells, a type of white blood cell, are removed, reprogrammed, and grown (multiplied) in the lab. They're then given back to the patient so they can destroy CLL cells in the patient's body. These treatments are now used to treat some types of leukemias and lymphomas, and they may be an option for some people with CLL, after other treatments have been tried. To learn more about CAR T-cell therapy for CLL, see Immunotherapy for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Nørgaard CH, Jakobsen LH, Gentles AJ, et al. Subtype assignment of CLL based on B-cell subset associated gene signatures from normal bone marrow - A proof of concept study. PLoS One. 2018 Mar 7;13(3):e0193249.

O'Reilly A, Murphy J, Rawe S, Garvey M. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: A Review of Front-line Treatment Options, With a Focus on Elderly CLL Patients. Clin Lymphoma Myeloma Leuk. 2018;18(4):249-256.

Last Revised: March 29, 2024

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