Chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Treatment options for patients with refractory disease



Patients with purine analogue–refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) have short survival and limited treatment options. Defining the best salvage strategies for this population is challenging, because limited data are available from clinical trials, and because studies have enrolled mixed populations (patients with recurrent and refractory disease or patients with refractory disease and Richter transformation). Moreover, patients with refractory CLL have a high incidence of unfavorable molecular and clinical features, such as high-risk genomic profiles, unmutated immunoglobulin heavy-chain genes, expression of zeta-chain–associated protein kinase 70, and bulky lymphadenopathies. These patients are also severely immunosuppressed because of the underlying disease and the treatments received, and experience a high rate of infectious complications that pose an additional difficulty in selecting treatment. Despite these challenges, in parallel with better characterizations of the biologic features of refractory CLL, the number of available treatment modalities for this population has increased. Several chemoimmunotherapy combinations have been developed, and novel agents with a different mechanism of action are being investigated in clinical trials. Furthermore, allogeneic stem cell transplantation with nonmyeloablative conditioning regimens is a therapeutic strategy that is increasingly offered to patients with refractory CLL. Cancer 2009. © 2009 American Cancer Society.