CLL Treatment Options

When your doctor tells you it's time to treat your chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), you have some decisions to make together. Your medical history, physical health, genetic markers, and stage are some important factors that inform your treatment plan. Learn more about each type of treatment, so you can talk with your doctor about your options.1

Oral Therapies icon

Oral Therapies

These drugs help block the growth of cancer cells by working against a specific part of those cells (for example, blocking a protein).2

Chemotherapy icon


Chemotherapy drugs can be given in several ways: by mouth in the form of a pill, infused (put into your body through a vein), injected, or applied to the skin. This type of treatment can be taken on its own or with other treatments. It works by entering the bloodstream to stop or slow the growth of CLL cells throughout the body.1,3

Steroids icon


Steroids are drugs that are usually used to relieve inflammation. They also work against some types of cancer. Many times, steroid medications are given with chemotherapy or other anti-cancer drugs.1,2

Antibody therapies icon

Antibody Therapies

Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins of the immune system. They help your body detect germs and other threats. Antibody therapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your immune system destroy cancer cells.1

Immunomodulators icon


This type of treatment gets its name from how ("immuno" for immune system) and where (“modulator” for change) it works: it changes, or modulates, different parts of the immune system. These drugs can help your immune system work better. Some can help prevent more cancer cells from being created.1,3

Stem Cell Transplant icon

Stem Cell Transplant

A stem cell transplant is a procedure after chemotherapy. This procedure replaces cancer and blood stem cells in your bone marrow with a transfusion of other blood stem cells. Either your own harvested cells or donor cells are used for the transfusion.1,2

Talk to your doctor about which options may be right for you.

Learn about an oral treatment option to discuss with your CLL doctor during your next visit.


Here are a few important points to note when starting treatment for CLL:

Understanding clinical trial results

Clinical trials have a couple of different ways to assess how well a treatment works:

Overall survival (OS) is the percentage of individuals in a trial who survive a disease such as cancer for a specified amount of time. Basically, it’s a measure of how long someone lives after diagnosis or starting treatment. It can be useful to look at OS rates when you’re discussing treatment options with your doctor, but not all clinical trials have an OS goal.

Progression-free survival (PFS) is another measure commonly used in clinical trials. PFS is the amount of time it takes before a disease progresses or gets worse.

Overall response rate (ORR) is the percentage of people in a study who have a partial or complete response to treatment within a period of time. It’s one more way to see how well a treatment works.

Understanding the difference between relapsed and refractory CLL

If you are not responding to treatment, your doctor might say you have relapsed or refractory CLL. Relapsed CLL means the disease responded to treatment at one point but started growing again. Refractory CLL means that the disease never responded to a particular treatment. When you’re no longer responding to treatment, your doctor might suggest starting a different one. Keep learning about your treatment options so you can have a productive conversation with your doctor.4

Understanding side effects

Many cancer treatments can cause serious side effects, including decrease in blood cell counts, bleeding, infections, heart rhythm problems, heart failure, high blood pressure, new cancers, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, hair loss, appetite changes, nerve problems, fertility problems, flu-like symptoms, and more. Talking with your doctor can help you understand the risks, and how side effects may be managed if they arise. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about all the medications you’re currently taking, as well as foods and herbs may have an effect on your treatment.

Supportive Care

Living the best life with CLL can mean making time to stay healthy, such as by getting vaccinations or eating the right foods. Sometimes it’s necessary to manage CLL symptoms, or side effects of treatments, with other kinds of medicines. Supportive care can include

Blood transfusions icon
Blood transfusions
Infection prevention icon
Infection prevention
CLL symptom management icon
CLL symptom management
Management of side effects caused by treatments icon
Management of side effects caused by treatments1,2

Create a Team

It can be hard to ask for help. But reaching out is the first step to building your support team.5

Become part of a community. Support groups and online message boards can help you connect with other people on the same path.

Invite friends and family to be part of your team. To help get the support you need, make sure to share exactly how they can help.6 You might ask for someone to

  • Accompany you to doctor’s appointments
  • Run errands for you or go grocery shopping with you
  • Plan an outing to take your mind off treatment

Share this page

Print this page

Start the Conversation

Get communication tips and help approaching conversations with your loved ones and doctors when you download the discussion guide.

Download Now > Descargar en Español

Focus on What Matters

Live the life you want. ACT On CLL helps you take an active role in your care, improve your coping skills, and learn more about your CLL.

Sign Up >

Know Your CLL

What makes your CLL experience unique? Find out by answering a few questions. It may help you better understand your CLL and make decisions with your doctor.

Test Your Knowledge >

You Are Not Alone      

As you learn more about your CLL, remember that there are organizations who want to help. Find the support and resources you want.



  1. Referenced with permission from the NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia V.2.2022. © NCCN Foundation®. 2022. All rights reserved. Accessed January 7, 2022. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to NCCN makes no warranties of any kind whatsoever regarding their content, use or application and disclaims any responsibility for their application or use in any way.
  2. American Cancer Society. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. American Cancer Society website. Updated May 10, 2018. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  3. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. National Cancer Institute website. Accessed April 29, 2019.
  4. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. White Plains, NY: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; 2014. Publication No. PS34 40M.
  5. National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Changes for the Family. National Cancer Institute website. Accessed September 28, 2018.
  6. American Cancer Society. Telling Others About Your Cancer. American Cancer Society website. Updated April 28, 2016. Accessed January 7, 2022.