Background: Genetic factors have been established in the recent years as the most important independent predictors of disease progression and survival in patients with B-chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (B-CLL). Fludarabine is an approved first-line treatment for B-CLL, which achieves superior remission rates than traditional therapies. The drug is equally effective in early and advanced disease and in younger and elderly patients with B-CLL but different results have been found in patients with cytogenetic aberrations as methylation in the TP53 promoter

Aims: To evaluate the response to Fludarabine as first-line therapy in B-CLL patients with advanced stages.

Patients and methods: In the study 55 B-CLL patients were enrolled. The diagnosis was established based on standard morphologic and immunophenotypic criteria, and classified on high clinical risk category Rai stage III/IV treated with Fludarabine (25 mg/m2 daily for 5 days IV in a 28-day cycle) as first-line therapy from January 00 to December 03. Response was evaluated after 4 cycles of therapy and in those patients which had not achieved complete remission (CR) two additional cycles were administrated. Criteria for response were established using the revised 1996 NCIWG. FISH studies were performed using the probes LSI p53 (17p13), LSI D13S25 (13q14), CEP 12 and ATM gene (11q22). The sequences of the IGVH genes were determined in cDNA of the patients. Responses to therapy, time to progression disease and overall survival were available to analyse in 41 patients. Association was studied using contingence tables followed by Fisher exact test and to evaluate survival by acturial method of Kaplan Meier and Cox regression.

Results: Mean age 64 (36.9–83.9), female 53.7%. 75% of patients presented genetic aberrations associated with worse prognosis: del (17p) and/or del (11q) (45%). No-mutated IGVH genes (57%). Response: 83.5% of patients achieved response (CR 47.8%). Related to genetic aberrations the responses were: 55.5% in patients with del(17p), 75.0% del(11q), 100% +12, 88.8% del(13q) and 100% of patients without genetic alterations showed response to Fludarabine. The 48.8 % of patients developed progression of disease with mean duration of the response of 15.1 months. Related to genetic aberrations the progression was over 81% of patients with genetic aberrations versus 55.5% without genetic alterations (p=0.044). The overall survival was 68.0 months. 34.1% of patients are alive in CR, 36.6% are alive with stable disease 7.3 % are alive with disease in progression and 22.0 % have died.

Conclusions: A high response to Fludarabine in first line therapy was observed, however only 55.5% of patients with del(17p) showed response. Patients with genetic aberrations had higher significant rate of progression in comparison with those containing normal genotypes.

This study has been partially sponsored by a grant from RECSP C03/09.

Author notes

Corresponding author