Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A trial looking at the timing of transplants using a patient's own stem cells (autologous transplant) for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (MRC CLL 5)
Doctors usually treat CLL with chemotherapy. This may bring your leukaemia under control, which is called ‘remission’. But the leukaemia is likely to come back and need further treatment.
Some people with CLL have ‘high risk’ leukaemia. This means that there is a high risk that their leukaemia will come back. So they may need more intensive treatment at some point. This involves having chemotherapy to put your CLL into remission again. And then high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. This treatment is usually only suitable for younger, fitter patients.
For high risk patients, doctors do not know whether it is better to use intensive treatment earlier rather than waiting until the leukaemia comes back. The aim of this trial was to find out if having a stem transplant earlier for high risk patients means that the leukaemia is less likely to come back long term.
Summary of results
The trial team found that the patients in this trial who had high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant did no better overall than the patients who did not.
223 people with high risk CLL took part in the trial. Everybody had early chemotherapy and then
- Half had high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant with their own cells (autologous transplant)
- Half had no further treatment but had regular checkups with their doctors to keep a close eye on their leukaemia
The researchers analysed the early results in 2009. They compared the results of the 2 different groups. They found that having a stem cell transplant halved the risk of the leukaemia coming back or getting worse in people with high risk CLL. But overall there was no difference in the number of people who lived for more than 5 years after treatment.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Professor Donald Milligan
European Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Group
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
Medical Research Council (MRC)
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)