Chemotherapy for 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 drugs can be given as tablets (oral chemotherapy) or into a vein (intravenously). The chemotherapy travels around your body through your blood. It can reach leukaemia cells all over your body.

You may have either a single chemotherapy drug or a combination of different drugs given together. You can usually have chemotherapy for CLL as an outpatient.

Before starting chemotherapy, you will have your height and weight checked. This is used to work out the right dose for you.

Chemotherapy is usually given as several sessions of treatment. Each treatment is followed by a rest period of a few weeks. This allows your body to recover from any side effects. The treatment and the rest period together, make up a cycle of treatment.

The drugs most often used to treat CLL are:


Chlorambucil chemotherapy is given as tablets. They can be prescribed in different ways, depending on your needs.

Fludarabine and cyclophosphamide

Fludarabine and cyclophosphamide are usually given together (known as FC chemotherapy). The treatment can be given as tablets or into a vein. A monoclonal antibody called rituximab is usually given with FC chemotherapy. This is called FC-R or R-FC treatment.


Bendamustine may be given to people with stage B or stage C CLL, who might not be able to have fludarabine. Rituximab is often given with bendamustine.

Sometimes, a combination of the chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide, vincristine and doxorubicin are given together. They are given into the vein. Steroid tablets called prednisolone are taken for five days with each cycle of treatment. This treatment is known as CHOP.

Your doctors may use other drugs and combinations of drugs. They will tell you what treatment they recommend for your situation.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.

Who might I meet?

A team of medical specialists will be involved throughout the course of your chemotherapy treatment.