October 4, 2010

New Treatment Improves Survival Rates for Leukemia Patients

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The monoclonal antibody rituximab given in addition to a standard chemotherapy regimen, significantly prolongs the lives of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a new study shows.

According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The "lymphocytic" in CLL comes from the cells affected by the disease, a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which helps your body fight infection. About 15,000 people receive a diagnosis each year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

CLL has usually been treated with chemotherapy, but with limited success. There is currently no treatment available that improves overall survival and it is currently incurable. But now, to further test the results found in a phase 2 trial, the German Lymphocytic Leukemia Study Group established 190 centers in 11 countries to test the combination of rituximab with the chemotherapy drugs fludarabine and cyclophosphamide.

In the Phase 3 trial, 408 previously untreated patients were randomly assigned to receive chemo immunotherapy with fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, and rituximab, and 409 patients to chemotherapy with fludarabine and cyclophosphamide.

Results showed that almost half of the patients in the chemo immunotherapy group achieved complete remission after 3 years. 65 percent of chemo immunotherapy patients also had no disease progression compared to 45 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy. Most importantly, treatment with chemo immunotherapy significantly increased the likelihood of patients surviving 3 years or more. At 3 years, 87 percent of patients receiving chemo immunotherapy were alive compared with 83 percent having chemotherapy alone.

These results might help establish a new treatment model in which the choice of a specific first-line treatment improves the natural course of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

SOURCE: The Lancet, September 2010