Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) exhibits a highly variable natural history, but the addition of genomic risk stratification to traditional clinical staging systems has begun to explain the heterogeneous clinical course. Overall response to treatment has significantly improved over the past three decades and for the first time, a survival benefit has been demonstrated with the use of monoclonal antibodies in combination with cytotoxic chemotherapy. Newer therapeutic strategies have abrogated the adverse prognosis associated with some higher risk features, but other genetic subgroups remain at high risk for rapid disease progression and early mortality. Patients at advanced age or with significant comorbidity constitute a large proportion of the CLL population and present unique clinical challenges. This article will discuss the evolution of contemporary therapeutic approaches to the initial treatment of CLL, and highlight the ways in which risk-adapted therapeutic strategies are improving clinical outcomes.