08:48am Friday 18 October 2019

Study offers reassurance to leukaemia patients

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research’s CLL4 trial offers the most complete information yet on the quality of life of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). The multinational study led by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) included data from 777 patients diagnosed between 1999 and 2004.

Patients in the study, which is published in the journal Leukemia & Lymphoma, regularly reported on key indicators of their physical, social and emotional quality of life for five years after beginning treatment. The patients were given one of three chemotherapy treatments – fludarabine, the ‘gentler’ chlorambucil, or a more toxic, but more effective, combination of fludarabine and cyclophosphamide (FC).

The combination of FC with the monoclonal antibody drug rituximab has since been shown to be the most effective treatment option for extending survival and this is now the standard treatment option. However, despite the benefits of prolonging survival times, there had been concerns that FC-based regimens may have unacceptable effects on patient’s quality of life.

The CLL4 study has proven for the first time that, while in the first few months of treatment FC may have more adverse impact on quality of life than treatment with other drugs, in the long term quality of life is just as good. Moreover, the quality of life of patients who achieved long remissions after treatment was similar to that of the normal population when matched by age and sex.

First author Monica Else from The Institute of Cancer Research said: “This is the first concrete evidence that FC treatment does not impair quality of life over the long term. Because FC is effective at creating long term remission, free of any serious symptoms, patients reported benefits from not constantly relapsing and having to receive repeated treatment.”

Senior author Emeritus Professor Daniel Catovsky from the ICR said: “The CLL4 clinical trial showed the benefits of FC for patients and is the basis for its use today, in combination with the drug rituximab, as the standard treatment of CLL. Additionally, it has helped doctors to customise treatment for each patient by establishing testing for different prognostic markers in CLL that can dictate how each individual’s disease will respond to therapy.”

FC is more toxic than chlorambucil or fludarabine alone and the study showed that in the first year of treatment, these patients did report greater fatigue and also more social exclusion, possibly due to the immunosuppressive nature of the drugs. However, after the first year, patients on all treatments reported similar quality of life.

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “CLL is predominantly a disease of the elderly, so side-effects that drugs can have on patients are a major concern, with more aggressive drugs causing nausea, fatigue and susceptibility to infection. CLL remains an incurable cancer but this study offers reassurance that powerful initial treatment can allow patients to enjoy a high quality of life for years in remission.” 

Many patients on the CLL4 trial who relapsed after receiving chlorambucil were transferred to FC, as it was already becoming clear that it was more effective. Chlorambucil is still used today however for very elderly and weak patients who would not be able to tolerate treatment with FC.

For further information, please contact Henry Winter at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research on 0207 269 9019 or email: hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk
Notes to Editors
The research is published online in the journal Leukemia & Lymphoma under the title ‘Quality of life in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: 5-year results from the multicenter randomized LRF CLL4 trial’. Primary author: Monica Else, Institute of Cancer Research
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is the only UK charity solely dedicated to research into blood cancers, including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. These cancers are diagnosed in more than 30,000 children, teenagers and adults in the UK every year.

We receive no government funding and rely entirely on voluntary support. In the next five years we need to raise £120 million to continue our lifesaving research. Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from beatingbloodcancers.org.uk or on 020 7405 0101.

The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at the ICR are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden Hospital and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.

The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.

As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.

The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk

Henry Winter

Science Press Officer

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

t: 020 7504 2219

f: 020 7405 3139

m: 07824 375880


Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, 39-40 Eagle Street, London WC1R 4TH

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