What’s the reasoning behind delaying chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatment in early stages? Expert Dr. Ryan Jacobs explains results of the CLL12 study and why active surveillance is an approved approach in early stage CLL.
Dr. Ryan Jacobs is a hematologist/oncologist specializing in chronic lymphocytic leukemia from Levine Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Jacobs.
Why are CLL patients not getting treatment in early stages of disease?
So interestingly enough, in the recently reported final analysis of the CLL12 study, which was trying to look at this particular question, do we, with our newer agents, gain anything from starting treatment earlier? Because, I’ll just remind the audience that there’s never been a study that shows giving an asymptomatic patient chemotherapy, ultimately improves survival. So we don’t do it. And with the important also caveat that I…there is a percentage of CLL patients that will never progress clinically. And I have patients in my clinic that have been on active surveillance for more than two decades.
So, with all that in mind, with our newer treatments, and, of course, ibrutinib (Imbruvica) was the first newer of these targeted agents, these small molecule inhibitors, there was this question, well, now that we have these newer treatments, can we start treatment early and does it make a difference? And so they took high-risk CLL patients and randomly assigned them in a blinded way to placebo or ibrutinib and followed them for years. And they just recently shut down the study because after many years there is still no difference in survival. And, of course, there are side effects with treatment and there’s financial toxicity for treatment too.
So with no survival benefit, we are, in any study in asymptomatic patients, we are not treating asymptomatic patients. And I have patients that experience hearing that in different ways. I would say three-quarters are really happy and love the fact that they can see me in six months to check in. But then there is the percentage that are kind of angry and think that we’re missing the boat here by just watching, so to speak. But the data supports active surveillance.
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