Autoimmune cytopenia in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: diagnosis and treatment

Br J Haematol. 2011 Jul;154(1):14-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2141.2011.08707.x. Epub 2011 May 1.


Autoimmune cytopenia, especially autoimmune haemolytic anaemia (AIHA), appears in 5-10% of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). In these patients, the prognosis is not as poor as in those cases in which the cytopenia is due to a massive bone marrow infiltration by the disease, and their treatment requires special considerations. For these reasons, the diagnosis of autoimmune cytopenia should be entertained in any patient with CLL presenting with cytopenia. In patients with autoimmune cytopenia and CLL, treatment is as for idiopathic autoimmune cytopenia, with most patients responding to corticosteroids. For patients not responding to corticosteroids, splenectomy is a reasonable treatment choice. Monoclonal antibodies and thrombopoietin analogues have shown enough activity to support their use, especially within clinical studies, in selected cases not responding to corticosteroids and before splenectomy. In patients with resistant immune cytopenia, the most effective treatment is that of the underlying CLL. Fear of fludarabine-associated AIHA is no longer appropriate in the age of chemo-immunotherapy. Finally, prospective studies are required to better identify the optimal therapy for these patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / diagnosis
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / etiology*
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / therapy
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / complications*
  • Leukemia, Lymphocytic, Chronic, B-Cell / drug therapy
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic / diagnosis
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic / etiology*
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic, Idiopathic / therapy