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Monoclonal antibodies| are drugs that are designed to recognise certain proteins on the surface of cells.
Monoclonal antibody treatments used for CLL are designed to destroy lymphocytes.
The monoclonal antibodies most commonly used to treat CLL are:
Rituximab is often given with chemotherapy|. Alemtuzumab may be given with chemotherapy or on its own.
You may be able to have monoclonal antibody treatment as an outpatient or you may be asked to stay in hospital overnight.
Rituximab and alemtuzumab can be given by intravenous infusion (drip). Most people have few side effects, but some people may have a reaction during, or just after, the infusion.
The symptoms of a reaction can include a high temperature, shakes (rigors), a rash, low blood pressure and feeling sick (nausea)|.
A reaction is most likely to happen the first time you have the treatment, so you’ll be given your first infusion very slowly to reduce the chance of one occurring. You’ll also be given medicines to help reduce any reaction that does occur.
Reactions are usually milder with a second infusion and any infusions that follow.
Alemtuzumab can also be given as an injection under the skin (subcutaneously). It’s less likely to cause a reaction when given in this way but you may notice some redness, swelling or soreness at the injection site. This usually goes away after a week or two.
Monoclonal antibody treatment can lower your resistance to infection|. You’ll probably be given antibiotics and antiviral drugs during treatment and for some time afterwards to prevent problems with infection.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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