Abstract

BACKGROUND: The diagnosis of CLL among asymptomatic patients without lymphadenopathy or cytopenias has historically been based on documenting a characteristic lymphocyte clone and the presence of lymphocytosis. Currently, there are no data regarding what lymphocyte type (absolute lymphocyte count [ALC] or B-cell count) or threshold should be used for this diagnosis. We analyzed the relationship of these lymphocyte counts to clinical outcome in a cohort of 459 patients to determine whether the CLL diagnosis:

  1. should be based on ALC or B-cell count

  2. what lymphocyte threshold should be used for diagnosis

  3. whether any lymphocyte counts has independent prognostic value after accounting for molecular prognostic markers.

METHODS: We used the Mayo Clinic CLL database to identify all Rai stage 0 patients diagnosed with CLL between 1/1/00 and 12/31/07 who were evaluated and had flow cytometry at Mayo within 12 months of diagnosis. All patients had lymphocytosis (ALC ≥5 x 109/L) and fulfilled the 1996 criteria for CLL. Raw data from the peripheral blood flow analysis was used in conjunction with blood counts to determine ALC and absolute B-cell count at diagnosis. Estimates of survival were calculated using the Kaplan-Meier method.

RESULTS: To assess whether B-cell count or ALC more strongly related to clinical outcome, we evaluated the relationship of these variables with treatment free survival (TFS) and overall survival (OS; n=459). When treated as continuous variables (i.e. measuring risk of each 1.0 x 109/L increase in cell count), both ALC and B-cell count were related to TFS (hazard ratio [HR] ALC=1.02; p<0.0001; HR B-cell count=1.02; p<0.0001) and OS (HR ALC=1.02; p=0.04; HR B-cell count=1.02; p=0.02).

Because B-cell count and ALC related to TFS and OS as a continuous variables, we next evaluated what threshold (nearest 1.0 x109/L) at diagnosis best related to an individual’s risk of requiring chemotherapeutic treatment and/or dying of CLL using the HR (log rank statistic) and c-statistic [c=1 indicates perfect discrimination between poor survivors and good survivors; c=0.5 equivalent to chance]. The B-cell threshold that best predicted OS was 11 x 109/L (HR=2.36, p=0.01; c=0.60). This threshold also predicted TFS (HR=3.02; p<0.0001; c=0.64). With respect to ALC, a threshold of 12 x 109/L was able to predict TFS (HR=2.28, p=0.003; c=0.62) but not OS (HR=1.62, p=0.12; c=0.56). The B-cell threshold used in the current diagnostic criteria (5 x 109/L) was able to predict TFS (HR=3.24, p<0.0001; c=0.63), but not OS (HR=1.64, p=0.13; c=0.55)

Finally, we evaluated the ability of B-cell count to predict TFS independent of IGHV mutation status, ZAP-70 status, CD38 status, and FISH. Since not all patients had all prognostic tests performed, the predictive value of B-cell count (< or ≥11 x 109) independent of the other prognostic variable was assessed for each variable independently. B-cell count retained prognostic value independent of IGHV mutation status, ZAP-70 status, CD38 status, and FISH (all p≤0.001) [Table].

CONCLUSIONS: Although B-cell count and ALC have similar ability to predict TFS and OS as continuous variables, B-cell count may be a better predictor of TFS and OS when a defined lymphocyte threshold is used. These findings provide evidence to justify the recent proposal by Hallek et al (Blood 111:5446) to base the diagnosis of CLL on B-cell count rather than ALC. The results also provide justification for retaining the size of the B-cell count as part of the diagnostic criteria even in the era of molecular/biologic prognostic markers, but imply a threshold of 11 x 109 is the B-cell count that best predicts patient’s TFS and risk of death. Differentiating between CLL and MBL based on a patient’s likelihood of developing clinical symptoms and dying of disease could minimize unnecessary psychologic distress caused by labeling asymptomatic individuals at low risk for adverse clinical consequences as having leukemia.

TABLE:

 TREATMENT FREE SURVIVAL 
 HR p-value 
CD38 + 3.20 0.0002 
B-cell ≥11 3.10 0.0001 
ZAP + 8.33 < 0.0001 
B-cell ≥11 6.86 < 0.0001 
Unmutated 5.26 < 0.0001 
B-cell ≥11 3.06 0.001 
FISH (17p- or 11q-) 3.97 0.01 
B-cell ≥11 3.67 < 0.0001 
 TREATMENT FREE SURVIVAL 
 HR p-value 
CD38 + 3.20 0.0002 
B-cell ≥11 3.10 0.0001 
ZAP + 8.33 < 0.0001 
B-cell ≥11 6.86 < 0.0001 
Unmutated 5.26 < 0.0001 
B-cell ≥11 3.06 0.001 
FISH (17p- or 11q-) 3.97 0.01 
B-cell ≥11 3.67 < 0.0001 

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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