Does untreated chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) that’s asymptomatic carry risks? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains CLL characteristics that are checked, research results from the CLL12 trial, and trends for treating vs. not treating asymptomatic CLL.
Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in chronic lymphocytic leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.
So, Dr. Jacobs, if CLL is left untreated due to no symptoms, and the white blood count is up to 150-200,000. Can it transform to another type of cancer? And what are the dangers of not treating without symptoms?
Yeah, so a couple points are highlighted in that question. One I would say, is that I would like to highlight, is that there is no specific white blood cell count that says you need to treat CLL. We do sometimes reference doubling time in less than six months or 50 percent or less than two months. But I would just note that actually a lot of specialists are de-emphasizing that criteria even as well. So we are really just focusing on, in terms of objective values on the complete blood count, looking at the hemoglobin and is it less than 10 platelet count? Is it less than a 100,000? And we’re using those as a guide to how healthy the bone marrow is, how much the CLL has invaded the bone marrow, but not specifically the white blood cell count.
So the answer is no, there’s no inherent danger to continuing a patient even into the 100 plus range on observation. Now, in terms of the second part of that question, are there any dangers to not treating asymptomatic patients, we actually just conclusively had the final report, the most recent report of trying to treat asymptomatic patients. And it was the CLL12 trial that was just presented at the European Hematology Association meeting that compared ibrutinib (Imbruvica) to a placebo in a blinded trial in higher risk CLL patients that didn’t meet clinical criteria to treatment. And the overall survival of the two groups after several years of following patients was, there was no difference in overall survival. So yet another study confirming that there’s no…you do not improve survival of patients when you try to treat them early.
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