Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. Chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) is often given with targeted therapy.

About chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy or damage leukaemia cells. These drugs interfere with the way leukaemia cells grow and divide.

The chemotherapy moves around the body through the blood. It can reach leukaemia cells all over the body. You may have either a single chemotherapy drug or a combination of different drugs given together.

The chemotherapy drugs most often used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) are:

Some of the possible chemotherapy and targeted therapy combinations include:

  • Fludarabine and cyclophosphamide are usually given together with a targeted therapy called rituximab. This combination is called FCR or RFC.
  • Chlorambucil chemotherapy is often given along with a targeted therapy.
  • Bendamustine is usually given with rituximab. This treatment is called BR.

There are lots of different drugs available to treat CLL. Your doctors may use other drugs and combinations of drugs. They will tell you what treatment they think is best for your situation.

You can usually have chemotherapy for CLL as an outpatient.

We have more information about chemotherapy and treatment for CLL.

Side effects of chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL)

If you are taking a single chemotherapy drug, such as chlorambucil, any side effects you have will usually be mild. Treatment with a combination of two or more chemotherapy drugs may cause more side effects.

Side effects can include:

We have listed some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Different chemotherapy drugs have different side effects. You can read more about side effects you may get from the specific drugs you are having.

You can talk to your doctor or nurse about what to expect from the treatment that is planned for you.

Irradiated blood

If you need a blood transfusion or a platelet transfusion and you have been treated with fludarabine or bendamustine, these transfusions should be treated with radiation (irradiated).

Irradiated transfusions should always be used during and after you have finished your treatment. This lowers the risk of the donated blood cells reacting against your own. Your hospital team should give you a card to carry or a MedicAlert ID tag to wear, so that the hospital staff are aware in case of an emergency.

We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy.

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.