Treatment for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

To date, no treatment approach is considered a cure for CLL. Fortunately, many patients do not develop significant symptoms and do not require treatment for years after the disease is discovered. Current treatment strategies are designed to alleviate symptoms by inducing disease remission or slowing the progression of disease.

Your Memorial Sloan Kettering doctor will make a treatment plan for you based on the stage and symptoms of the disease and your age and overall health. Our team may treat symptomatic CLL with combinations of chemotherapy, including the following:

  • rituximab
  • cyclophosphamide
  • pentostatin
  • fludarabine for younger patients

For older patients, CLL may be treated with a combination of agents such as rituximab, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, and prednisone. Other effective regimens in older patients include bendamustine with rituximab, as well as obinutuzumab with chlorambucil. For relapsed disease, newly approved treatments such as ibrutinib or idelalisib may be used. These represent novel targeted therapies with much less toxicity as compared with conventional chemotherapy.

Pictured: Beatriz Korc-Grodzicki
Help for Older Patients
Memorial Sloan Kettering offers programs and care specifically focused on the needs of elderly cancer patients.
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Other treatment options may include:

Occasionally, Memorial Sloan Kettering doctors may use localized radiation therapy — treatment with high-energy rays that destroy cancer cells — as a palliative treatment for CLL to control enlarged lymph nodes or an enlarged spleen.

Although stem cell transplantation is not needed for the vast majority of patients with CLL, it sometimes represents the only potentially curative therapy and may be recommended for particularly high risk subtypes of CLL. We are world leaders in this field. Learn more about blood and marrow stem cell transplantation.

Investigational Approaches

Our researchers are constantly pursuing new approaches to treat ALL — approaches that can kill tumor cells directly, inhibit the body’s production of substances that promote their growth, or enhance the immune response against leukemic cells. See an up-to-date listing of our clinical trials.

Immunotherapy has produced very encouraging results in patients with certain types of leukemia. Our researchers are pioneers in this field, working to engineer T cells, a form of white blood cell, that can recognize and attack a patient’s cancer cells.

Learn more about how this approach, called CAR T cell therapy, works.

Our researchers conducted clinical trials testing groundbreaking new targeted therapies for CLL including ibrutinib and idelalisib. These treatments are highly effective in patients with CLL that has been resistant to or come back after standard therapies — and have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy.

Ongoing Care

People with CLL are likely to see their doctor often to monitor the disease and to determine if it is progressing. These check-ups may include a physical exam, blood tests, bone marrow aspirates, biopsies, and radiographic studies.