The immunochemotherapy regimen composed of fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab (FCR) has emerged as highly effective frontline or second line therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This regimen may be however associated with prolonged cytopenia and the risk of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
In our retrospective single center analysis, we evaluated the efficacy and the toxicity of FC or FCR regimen in unselected population of CLL patients with treatment indication. The overall survival (OS) and progression free survival (PFS) was calculated for all patients as intent to treat analysis. The prolonged cytopenia was defined as cytopenia (grade 2–4 according to CTCAE v.4 ) developing during of after the last cycle of FC/FCR and persisting two or more months. Cytopenia was evaluated in patients with follow-up at least 6 months after this treatment. Patients were excluded from analysis of cytopenia if they underwent immediate other treatment (antibody maintenance, high dose therapy with autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) consolidation, or they received other therapy due to unsatisfactory response to FCR). Patients with missing laboratory data after FC(R) were also excluded. Kaplan Maier curves for PFS and OS were calculated and log rank test was used for survival comparison.
Altogether, 252 patients started the treatment with FC or FCR in the years 2000–2012 at our institution. There were 86 (34%) women and 166 (66%) men with a median age of 62 years (31–87) at the time of FC(R) therapy. 52 (21%) pts received FC regimen, including 40 pts treated in first line therapy and 12 pts in second line therapy. FCR therapy was administered in 200 pts (79%): 153 pts received FCR as first line therapy, 38 pts as second line therapy and 8 pts as third or fouth line therapy. The median number of FC cycles was 5 (1–8) with or without R. The estimated OS for the first line therapy was 87,5% in FCR group vs 80% at 3y in FC group (p ns) (Hallek,CLL8: 87% vs 83%) and PFS was 70% in FCR group vs 50% in FC group (p=0,004) with the median of follow-up 45 months.
Altogether 184 pts fulfill the criteria for cytopenia analysis. The most frequent immediate subsequent therapy considered as exclusion for this analysis was ASCT consolidation (n 20). Out of 184 pts, 146 recieved FC(R) as 1st line treatment and 38 subsequent therapy. The prolonged cytopenia was observed in 54 pts (29%), 42 (29%) in 1st line group and 12 (32%) in subsequent line group. Median duration of cytopenia was 8 m (2–65), 29 out of 54 patients have had persistent cytopenia at the time of last follow up. The cumulative probability to develop cytopenia was 30.3% at 2y among all pts and 29.7% among first line FCR treated pts. There was no significant difference between FC and FCR treated pts. Eleven pts developed MDS/AML, 7 cases were observed in the followed group of 184 pts (with probability 6.1% at 6y), in all cases the cytopenia preceded the MDS onset, 6y probability to develop MDS was 25.2% for patients who develop prolonged cytopenia after FC(R). Moreover 2 MDS and 1 AML were observed among 20 pts treated with ASCT (6y probability 5.6%, 8y probability 22.5%). The OS probability from 1stcycle of FC(R) was significantly better for pts without cytopenia (75.5% vs 57.5% at 5y, p<0.005), nonsigificant trend was observed if only first line FCR pts were analyzed (88% vs 85%). The median survival for the MDS pts from the time of MDS dg was 6 months only.
Although the FCR is the best available standard treatment option for CLL pts, it is associated with prolonged cytopenia in 30% of cases. These patients with prolonged cytopenia afte FC(R) have considerably high probability (25.2%) to develop MDS and they have worse OS compared to pts without cytopenia.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.