What do chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients need to know about treatment factors and prognosis? Expert Dr. Danielle Brander explains key tests involved in determining CLL treatment and prognosis.
Dr. Danielle Brander is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies & Cellular Therapy at Duke University Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Danielle Brander.
So, Dr. Brander, how do you explain CLL treatment options and prognosis to your newly diagnosed patients? And I think that the prognosis piece is really important, especially if they do start treatment.
Dr. Danielle Brander:
What are the things we’re looking for in terms of needing treatment? Because some of those, especially the symptoms we’re noting a lymph node or spleen, for example, or symptoms of anemia, which is low red cells or bleeding from low platelets, it’s helpful for patients to understand what we’re looking for, but, of course, in the time between visits those are the things we want to help patients with if they notice.
And so we encourage them all the time to call our triage or send us, you know, most electronic medical records now, have ways to send your team a message. And we want to know about that from patients in between visits. In terms of prognosis, as I mentioned before, there are other CLL-specific labs usually on the blood, meaning a regular blood draw.
Most patients don’t need another lymph node biopsy or a bone marrow biopsy, though that happens in some cases. And two of those or some of those key markers I mentioned before, but they test in the leukemia, there’s one test called the FISH, F-I-S-H, it’s not specific to CLL, we use it in other cancers. But it’s to look for specific changes in the leukemia genomics, meaning the DNA, the genetic material of the leukemia, not genetics you’re born with, but the cancer itself.
And there are specific patterns and that can be helpful as I sit down with patients to say this isn’t 100 percent, but this is kind of what to expect and likelihood of needing treatment over the next couple of years. There’s another test called IGHV, another mutation test TP53 kind of beyond this to go over right now, but as you mentioned, I think it’s important to meet with your medical team and say, ‘How does this pertain to me specifically?”
In terms of prognosis, I think there’s two parts to that of understanding what to expect. There’s likelihood of needing treatment, there’s likelihood of time to treatment, and those kind of markers and staging system help in a good way. Right now, our historical expectations, meaning 5 or 10 years ago, we could often also sit with patients and say, “This is the prognosis in terms of survival.” Expected life expectancy on average, but in a good way, most of our systems nowadays with the newer treatments likely vastly underestimate patient survival, meaning those systems were designed when we only had chemotherapy treatments.
Now, we know patients even with the highest risk markers, the faster progressions are living, you know, years and years beyond what was expected with chemotherapy. So I just caution especially materials around from just a couple of years ago that likely they don’t pertain, but they can be helpful in knowing what to expect.