Treatment of acute promyelocytic leukemia with all-trans retinoic acid: An update of the New York experience
Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute
In an ongoing study, we treated 79 patients with a molecular diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) using all-trans retinoic acid (RA) for remission induction. Newly diagnosed patients received cytotoxic chemotherapy for consolidation, and previously treated patients received extended all-trans RA therapy, or a radionuclide-conjugated monoclonal antibody as post-remission treatment. Unlike studies in Europe, full-dose chemotherapy was not given during induction for patients who developed leukocytosis. Overall, 43 of 49 newly diagnosed patients (88%) and 25 of 30 previously treated patients (83%) achieved complete remission. We did not encounter de novo resistance to all-trans RA in any patient who was positive for PML/RAR-alpha rearrangements by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction analysis. Ten patients died during induction from intracranial or pulmonary hemorrhage (six patients) or the 'retinoic acid syndrome' (four patients). The use of leukapheresis or low-dose chemotherapy (hydroxyurea or cytosine arabinoside) for drug-induced leukocytosis did not decrease early mortality. Compared to historical controls, early mortality was not affected by treatment with all-trans RA; however, both relapse-free and overall survival were significantly increased. Maintenance therapy with all-trans RA was associated with short remission duration, and relapses while taking the drug were universally associated with resistance to further retinoid treatment. We conclude that the use of all-trans RA for remission induction, with or without full-dose chemotherapy, has significantly increased the survival of patients with APL. While early mortality has not yet been reduced, the avoidance of full-dose chemotherapy during induction has significantly reduced early morbidity. The major outstanding clinical issue is the development of strategies that maximize safety in high-risk patients for whom intracranial hemorrhage remains the major cause of death.