The management of extramedullary relapse (EM) of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) after allogeneic stem cell transplant (allo-SCT) is not standardized. We present a single institution experience, describing the risk factors, outcomes and management of EM leukemia relapse in AML patients who underwent allo-SCT.


After due IRB approval, 351 patients with AML who underwent allo-SCT at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, from 1985 through 2012, were evaluated for EM relapse. All patients had BM biopsies and cytogenetic studies at diagnosis and at relapse. Extramedullary relapse was identified by clinical exams and radiological methods and confirmed where possible by biopsies and cerebrospinal analysis (CSF). Clinical, pathological and transplant related data was retrospectively abstracted.


Of 351 patients, 26 (7%) had EM involvement at initial diagnosis (17 CNS, 9 non-CNS, 3 both). Forty-four (13%) patients had CNS disease detected prior to allo-SCT. Of these, 17 (39%) were detected at AML diagnosis due to clinical signs/symptoms, 11 (25%) were detected to have CNS involvement at the time of AML relapse and 16 (36%) were asymptomatic; diagnosed on routine pre transplant CSF studies. All patients with pretransplant EM disease received appropriate therapy prior to undergoing transplantation.

After allo-SCT, 21 (6%; 12 male) of 351 patients sustained an EM relapse (11 CNS alone, 9 non-CNS, 1 both). The non-CNS EM relapse sites were cutaneous, skeletal, renal, breast, testicular, gastrointestinal tract and soft tissue. In 12 patients with CNS relapse, 8 (68%) presented with localizing signs and symptoms and 4 were asymptomatic. The median age at EM relapse was 42 years (range; 2 - 61 years) and the median time to EM relapse was 443 days (range; 90- 6069 days). Salvage therapy offered in 18 patients included, intrathecal chemotherapy (IT) alone in 2, IT + systemic chemotherapy (CTX) in 2, allo-SCT in 1, CTX alone in 6, IT + radiation therapy (XRT) in 1, CTX, IT and XRT in 1, and CTX + XRT in 5 patients, respectively. Three patients were ineligible for further therapy. Median survival after EM relapse was 136 days (18 – 819, days), with 4 patients alive at last followup.

At the time of AML diagnosis; 6 (29%) of 21 patients had EM involvement (2 breast, 1 lymph node, 1 CNS and lymph node, 1 cutaneous), 8 (38%) patients had a monocytic differentiation (AML-M4/M5) and 6 of 9 tested, had CD56 expression. Three (14%), 8 (38%) and 10 (48%) patients were risk stratified based on cytogenetic and molecular status (FLT3/NPM1) into favorable, intermediate and high risk, respectively. Subsequently, all 21 patients underwent allo-SCT with 14 patients undergoing matched related donor (MRD) transplants. The transplant conditioning was myeloablative in 16 (76%) patients, of which 11 (69%) received total body irradiation (TBI). Grade II-IV acute graft versus host disease (GVHD) was noted in 11 (52%) patients, while chronic GVHD was noted in 8 (38). On univariate analysis, factors associated with shortened survival after EM relapse included; high risk karyotype at diagnosis (p=0.009), concurrent bone marrow involvement with EM relapse (p=0.01) and reduced intensity conditioning (RIC) (p=0.04). Importantly, CD56 expression (p=0.27), CNS involvement at diagnosis (p=0.76), and chronic GVHD (p=0.383) were not prognostic. On a multivariate analysis, high risk karyotype (p=0.04) and concurrent bone marrow involvement (p=0.04) retained their negative prognostic value.


Although uncommon, EM relapse after allo-SCT for AML is associated with poor outcomes. Pretransplant CSF screening identifies a significant number of asymptomatic patients with CNS disease. High risk karyotype at diagnosis and concurrent BM involvement with EM relapse are poor prognosticators.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.