Chronic lymphocytic leukemia gets a major treatment update

Blue and white capsules spill out of a white bottle on an orange background.

Dec. 27, 2018—Some positive news about cancer treatment: There's a more effective therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), one of the most common forms of adult leukemia.

Researchers looked at data from a large clinical trial comparing a new drug combination to the standard leukemia treatment. Up until now, CLL has been treated with a cocktail of chemotherapy drugs called FCR. But this study found that pairing two targeted treatments worked better for people 70 and younger with untreated CLL.

Compared to FCR, a combo of the drugs ibrutinib and rituximab controlled patients' CLL longer before it got worse. The drugs helped them live longer with fewer side effects too. Ibrutinib makes it harder for leukemia cells to survive in the body. Rituximab helps the immune system destroy the cells. Both drugs are already on the market.

The results call for an immediate change in how CLL ought to be treated, the study authors say. Ibrutinib plus rituximab should now be the first-line therapy for CLL patients age 70 and younger.

A common, chronic cancer

Leukemia is a kind of cancer that starts in the bone marrow and moves into the bloodstream. CLL is one specific type that usually affects adults middle-aged or older. (It rarely strikes in people under 40.) CLL tends to grow slowly for a few years. But it can spread to the lymph nodes, liver and spleen.

The study was run through the National Cancer Institute's clinical trials network. Learn more about chronic leukemia, symptoms and treatment options.

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