Autoimmune cytopenias are a frequent complication in CLL, occuring in approximately 5-10% of the patients. The most common manifestation is autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, followed by immune thrombocytopaenia and only rarely pure red blood cell aplasia or autoimmune granulocytopaenia. Initial treatment is as for the idiopathic autoimmune cytopenias, with most patients responding to conventional corticosteroid therapy. Patients not responding after 4–6 weeks of conventional therapy should be considered for alternative immunosuppression, monoclonal antibody therapy or splenectomy. While randomized trials demonstrating the benefit of rituximab in CLL-related autoimmune diseases are still lacking, there are considerable data in the literature that provide evidence for its effectiveness.
The monoclonal antibody alemtuzumab also displays considerable activity against both the malignant disease and the autoimmune complication in patients with CLL, although at the expense of greater toxicity. A number of new monoclonal antibodies, such as ofatumumab, GA-101, lumiliximab, TRU-016, epratuzumab, and galiximab, are currently investigated in CLL and their activity in CLL-related autoimmune cytopenias should be evaluated in future studies.