Gemcitabine is a part of National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines as salvage therapy for relapsed/refractory B-cell lymphomas, but its role in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) remains unclear. We describe a case of relapsed CLL showing complete response while on gemcitabine for another primary malignancy, suggesting a potential curative role of gemcitabine for CLL.
A 78-year-old male with relapsed CD38+ CLL with del11q on ibrutinib with partial response, presented with gross hematuria for one week. Of note, he was diagnosed with BRCA-negative Stage Ib pancreatic adenocarcinoma within the previous year, treated with surgery and adjuvant capecitabine-gemcitabine. Physical examination was unremarkable and bloodwork showed a white cell count of 32,000 cells/ mm3 with 1.5% lymphocytes, hemoglobin 9.5 g/dL, and platelets 866,000 cells/mm3. Hematuria remained persistent despite frequent bladder irrigations but resolved within a week of stopping ibrutinib. Eight months later, his white cell count is 6,600 cells/mm3, with 16% lymphocytes, hemoglobin 10.2 g/dL, platelets 519,000/m3, and CT scans show no pathological lymphadenopathy. A recent flow cytometry done for academic purposes showed no clonal B cells.
Relapsed CLL has a poor prognosis with no curative treatment. Gemcitabine is a part of NCCN guidelines for relapse/refractory B-cell lymphomas but is not included in guidelines for CLL. A study by Jamie et al in 2001 suggested the pre-clinical effectiveness of gemcitabine for relapsed/refractory CLL and phase II trials conducted in 2005 and 2012 on combination chemotherapy including gemcitabine have shown overall CLL response rates of 50-65%. The resolution of B-cell clonality and improvement in biochemical markers after treatment with gemcitabine for an alternate primary malignancy suggested that gemcitabine played a potential curative role in our patient. Further prospective studies are needed to explore this avenue for the role of gemcitabine as a salvage as well as potentially curative therapy for relapsed CLL with variable cytogenetics and treatment histories.
Gemcitabine is not part of NCCN guidelines for CLL currently but it is a reasonable treatment option for relapsed/refractory CLL. Further studies are needed to explore its potential curative role for relapsed CLL, and update existing guidelines.