Despite widespread use of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) in treatment of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL), recent studies in the US1 and Sweden2 have reported continuing high rates of early death. Patient age has appeared to be an important factor affecting outcomes. We studied the incidence and outcomes in the Canadian APL patients to determine which patients may be at higher risk, and to analyze the success of current management.


We used data from the Canadian Cancer Registry, which included all patients diagnosed between 1993-2007. We obtained incidence, Early Death (ED) (death within 30 days of diagnosis), and 1 and 5-year overall survival (OS). This was stratified by age, sex, and time period of diagnosis. Detailed information was obtained on a subset of patients managed at five Canadian leukemia referral centres from 1999 to 2010.


There were 399 cases of APL diagnosed in Canada between 1993-2007.This accounted for 3.01% of Acute Myeloid Leukemia cases. Incidence (age-standardized to the 1991 Canadian census population) was 0.083/100000. The incidence was greater in the population aged 50 and over, with an incidence rate ratio (IRR) of 2.192 (95% C.I.1.80 - 2.67, p<0.001). ED was 21.8% overall, with a rate over three times higher in older patients as compared to younger patients. The ED rate was 10.6% in younger (<50 years) patients and 35.5% in older (≥50 years) patients. One-year overall survival was 84.1% in younger patients as compared to 52.3% in older adults. The rate of death at one year is nearly three times higher in the older patients. Five-year survival was 54.6%; this was 73.3% in the younger patients (<50), and 29.1% in the older group (≥50 years). There were 131 patients in the leukemia referral centre cohort, who predominantly received tretinoin (ATRA) based therapy. In this population, ED was 14.6%. Two-year OS was 76.5% (95% C.I. 68%-83%). Age over 60 predicted an inferior outcome at 2-years with a hazard ratio of 4.051 (95% CI 1.17-7.57).


To our knowledge, this is the largest nationwide epidemiologic study of APL. Despite widespread use of ATRA in Canada and low rates of ED reported in clinical trials (often 3-8%), we found that the real survival outcomes of APL were worse than anticipated. However they were similar to those reported recently from other developed counties1,2. The outcomes were much poorer for the older patients with APL. This included a higher rate of early death as well as poorer rates of survival at one, two and five year follow-up times. The ED rates of patients <50 more closely matched rates reported in clinical trials. We compared the survival outcomes of the entire population with APL to a sample of only patients treated at specialized referral centres. Despite receiving care in a specialized tertiary centre, the survival of older patients remained significantly poorer than the younger patients. The incidence of APL was also double in the older population as compared to the younger population. Overall the age-standardized incidence was lower in Canada than has been reported in other countries1,2. This emphasizes that, although APL is a type of AML that does affect younger patients, there is a large and important impact of this disease on older patients. Recent studies in the US and Sweden have also reported higher rates of APL in older populations and poorer rates of survival at various follow up times. Overall the patients with high-risk Sanz scores had the worst survival outcomes. The survival at most time points was slightly higher for patients scored as intermediate-risk compared to those who were in the low-risk category. When arsenic becomes widely available as a first line therapy it will be important to continue population-based analysis to see how this affects outcomes and whether the outcomes are difference in difference age groups or populations.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.