Based on the encouraging results of the use of 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine ([2-CdA], cladribine) in patients with advanced, low-grade lymphomas resistant to conventional therapy and the acceptable toxicity profile encountered, we conducted a phase II trial of 2-CdA in patients with untreated indolent lymphomas. Twenty-eight patients with untreated low-grade lymphomas were given 2-CdA at 0.1 mg/kg/d as a 7-day continuous infusion every 28 to 35 days. A total of 89 courses, median of three courses per patient, of 2-CdA were administered. Seventeen men and 11 women with a median age of 58 years were treated. Fifteen patients had diffuse small lymphocytic (8 with plasmacytoid features), 10 had follicular small cleaved-cell, and there were single patients with monocytoid B-cell, mantle cell and mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma histologies. All 28 patients were evaluable for toxicity and 26 were evaluable for response. Nine (35%) patients (4 with diffuse small lymphocytic, 3 with follicular small cleaved-cell, 1 with mantle cell, and 1 with MALT lymphoma) achieved a complete response, and 14 (54%) patients (8 with diffuse small lymphocytic, 5 with follicular small cleaved-cell, and 1 with monocytoid B-cell lymphoma) achieved a partial response, for an overall response rate of 88%. The median response duration was 10 months (range, 3 to 44+). Myelosuppression was the principal toxicity. Actuarial survival at 60 months from initial diagnosis was 60% (95% confidence interval, 35% to 82%) and at 48 months from treatment onset was 62% (95% confidence interval, 39% to 83%). These results establish the major activity of 2-CdA in patients with untreated indolent lymphoma, especially those with the diffuse small lymphocytic subtype.