Stage Information for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Staging is useful in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) to predict prognosis and also to stratify patients to achieve comparisons for interpreting specific treatment results. Anemia and thrombocytopenia are the major adverse prognostic variables.

CLL has no standard staging system. The Rai staging system and the Binet classification are presented below.[1,2] A National Cancer Institute (NCI)-sponsored working group has formulated standardized guidelines for criteria related to eligibility, response, and toxic effects to be used in future clinical trials in CLL.[3]

Rai Staging System

Stage 0

Stage 0 CLL is characterized by absolute lymphocytosis (>15,000/mm3) without adenopathy, hepatosplenomegaly, anemia, or thrombocytopenia.

Stage I

Stage I CLL is characterized by absolute lymphocytosis with lymphadenopathy without hepatosplenomegaly, anemia, or thrombocytopenia.

Stage II

Stage II CLL is characterized by absolute lymphocytosis with either hepatomegaly or splenomegaly with or without lymphadenopathy.

Stage III

Stage III CLL is characterized by absolute lymphocytosis and anemia (hemoglobin <11 g/dL) with or without lymphadenopathy, hepatomegaly, or splenomegaly.

Stage IV

Stage IV CLL is characterized by absolute lymphocytosis and thrombocytopenia (<100,000/mm3) with or without lymphadenopathy, hepatomegaly, splenomegaly, or anemia.

Binet Classification

Clinical stage A*

Clinical stage A CLL is characterized by no anemia or thrombocytopenia and fewer than three areas of lymphoid involvement (Rai stages 0, I, and II).

Clinical stage B*

Clinical stage B CLL is characterized by no anemia or thrombocytopenia with three or more areas of lymphoid involvement (Rai stages I and II).

Clinical stage C

Clinical stage C CLL is characterized by anemia and/or thrombocytopenia regardless of the number of areas of lymphoid enlargement (Rai stages III and IV).

*Lymphoid areas include cervical, axillary, inguinal, and spleen.

The Binet classification integrates the number of nodal groups involved with the disease with bone marrow failure. Its major benefit derives from the recognition of a predominantly splenic form of the disease, which may have a better prognosis than in the Rai staging, and from recognition that the presence of anemia or thrombocytopenia has a similar prognosis and does not merit a separate stage. Neither system separates immune from nonimmune causes of cytopenia. Patients with thrombocytopenia or anemia or both, which is caused by extensive marrow infiltration and impaired production (Rai III/IV, Binet C) have a poorer prognosis than patients with immune cytopenias.[4] The International Workshop on CLL has recommended integrating the Rai and Binet systems as follows: A(0), A(I), A(II); B(I), B(II); and C(III), C(IV).[5] The NCI-sponsored working group has published guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of CLL in both clinical trial and general practice settings.[3] Use of these systems allows comparison of clinical results and establishment of therapeutic guidelines.


Prognostic factors

New prognostic markers are now available to the clinician and investigator.[6,7] The use of these markers to stratify patients in clinical trials, to help assess the need for therapy, and to help select the type of therapy continues to evolve. Prospective trials to verify and establish the role of these prognostic markers are ongoing. No large multivariable analyses exist as yet to test the relative power of these individual prognostic variables.[8] Prognostic indices are under evaluation and will require prospective validation.[9]

  • Immunoglobulin variable region heavy chain gene (IgVH) mutation.[10,11,12,13,14] The finding of significant numbers of mutations in this region is associated with a median survival in excess of 20 to 25 years. The absence of mutations is associated with a median survival of 8 to 10 years.
  • ZAP-70. ZAP-70 has been proposed as a surrogate for the mutational status.[15,16,17,18] ZAP-70 positivity for previously untreated and asymptomatic patients (>30%) is associated with a more unfavorable median survival (6-10 years), while a negative ZAP-70 is associated with a median survival of more than 15 years. A prospective evaluation of these markers in a randomized study of fludarabine-based chemotherapy (E2997 [NCT00003764]) failed to show any difference in response rates, response duration, progression-free survival, or overall survival (OS).[19]
  • Chromosomal abnormalities by fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH). FISH chromosomal abnormalities were associated with prognosis in retrospective and prospective studies and clonal evolution has been seen over time.[20,21,22,23] 13q- is favorable (with a 17-year median OS in a prospective study).[23] Trisomy 12 and 11q- have less favorable prognoses (with a 9- to 11-year median OS in a prospective study).[23] In particular, 17p- is associated with mutated TP53 and with poor response rates and short duration of response to the standard therapeutic options.[13] 17p- is associated with the most unfavorable prognosis (with a 7-year median OS in one prospective trial).[19,23,24] The combination of adverse cytogenetics such as 11q- or 17p- (suggesting a worse prognosis) with ZAP-70 negativity (suggesting a better prognosis) in the same patients resulted in a poor prognosis.[18] These findings emphasize the need for prospective studies of combinations of these prognostic markers.[8]
  • CD38 immunophenotype.[11,25] CD38 positivity (>30%) correlates with a worse prognosis, but there is a 30% false-positive rate and a 50% false-negative rate using IgVH mutational status as the gold standard for prognosis.


Other prognostic factors include:

  • Stage.[1,2] (Refer to the Rai staging system section and the Binet classification section of this summary for more information.)
  • Lymphocyte doubling time (doubling of the white blood cell count in excess of 1 year implies a favorable prognosis).[26]
  • Beta-2-microglobulin (higher levels imply a worse prognosis).[27]


  1. Rai KR, Sawitsky A, Cronkite EP, et al.: Clinical staging of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 46 (2): 219-34, 1975.
  2. Binet JL, Auquier A, Dighiero G, et al.: A new prognostic classification of chronic lymphocytic leukemia derived from a multivariate survival analysis. Cancer 48 (1): 198-206, 1981.
  3. Hallek M, Cheson BD, Catovsky D, et al.: Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia: a report from the International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia updating the National Cancer Institute-Working Group 1996 guidelines. Blood 111 (12): 5446-56, 2008.
  4. Moreno C, Hodgson K, Ferrer G, et al.: Autoimmune cytopenia in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: prevalence, clinical associations, and prognostic significance. Blood 116 (23): 4771-6, 2010.
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  9. Shanafelt TD, Jenkins G, Call TG, et al.: Validation of a new prognostic index for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer 115 (2): 363-72, 2009.
  10. Hamblin TJ, Davis Z, Gardiner A, et al.: Unmutated Ig V(H) genes are associated with a more aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 94 (6): 1848-54, 1999.
  11. Damle RN, Wasil T, Fais F, et al.: Ig V gene mutation status and CD38 expression as novel prognostic indicators in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 94 (6): 1840-7, 1999.
  12. Rosenwald A, Alizadeh AA, Widhopf G, et al.: Relation of gene expression phenotype to immunoglobulin mutation genotype in B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia. J Exp Med 194 (11): 1639-47, 2001.
  13. Byrd JC, Gribben JG, Peterson BL, et al.: Select high-risk genetic features predict earlier progression following chemoimmunotherapy with fludarabine and rituximab in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: justification for risk-adapted therapy. J Clin Oncol 24 (3): 437-43, 2006.
  14. Kharfan-Dabaja MA, Chavez JC, Khorfan KA, et al.: Clinical and therapeutic implications of the mutational status of IgVH in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer 113 (5): 897-906, 2008.
  15. Crespo M, Bosch F, Villamor N, et al.: ZAP-70 expression as a surrogate for immunoglobulin-variable-region mutations in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. N Engl J Med 348 (18): 1764-75, 2003.
  16. Orchard JA, Ibbotson RE, Davis Z, et al.: ZAP-70 expression and prognosis in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Lancet 363 (9403): 105-11, 2004.
  17. Rassenti LZ, Huynh L, Toy TL, et al.: ZAP-70 compared with immunoglobulin heavy-chain gene mutation status as a predictor of disease progression in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. N Engl J Med 351 (9): 893-901, 2004.
  18. Kröber A, Bloehdorn J, Hafner S, et al.: Additional genetic high-risk features such as 11q deletion, 17p deletion, and V3-21 usage characterize discordance of ZAP-70 and VH mutation status in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 24 (6): 969-75, 2006.
  19. Grever MR, Lucas DM, Dewald GW, et al.: Comprehensive assessment of genetic and molecular features predicting outcome in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia: results from the US Intergroup Phase III Trial E2997. J Clin Oncol 25 (7): 799-804, 2007.
  20. Döhner H, Stilgenbauer S, Benner A, et al.: Genomic aberrations and survival in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. N Engl J Med 343 (26): 1910-6, 2000.
  21. Kröber A, Seiler T, Benner A, et al.: V(H) mutation status, CD38 expression level, genomic aberrations, and survival in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Blood 100 (4): 1410-6, 2002.
  22. Catovsky D, Fooks J, Richards S: Prognostic factors in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: the importance of age, sex and response to treatment in survival. A report from the MRC CLL 1 trial. MRC Working Party on Leukaemia in Adults. Br J Haematol 72 (2): 141-9, 1989.
  23. Shanafelt TD, Witzig TE, Fink SR, et al.: Prospective evaluation of clonal evolution during long-term follow-up of patients with untreated early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 24 (28): 4634-41, 2006.
  24. Catovsky D, Richards S, Matutes E, et al.: Assessment of fludarabine plus cyclophosphamide for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (the LRF CLL4 Trial): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 370 (9583): 230-9, 2007.
  25. Ghia P, Guida G, Stella S, et al.: The pattern of CD38 expression defines a distinct subset of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients at risk of disease progression. Blood 101 (4): 1262-9, 2003.
  26. Montserrat E, Sanchez-Bisono J, Viñolas N, et al.: Lymphocyte doubling time in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: analysis of its prognostic significance. Br J Haematol 62 (3): 567-75, 1986.
  27. Di Giovanni S, Valentini G, Carducci P, et al.: Beta-2-microglobulin is a reliable tumor marker in chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Acta Haematol 81 (4): 181-5, 1989.
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