Hydroxyurea has been the mainstay of cytoreductive therapy in essential thrombocythemia (ET) for over four decades. In 1988, anagrelide was first reported as an effective drug in ET (Silverstein et al. NEJM 1988;318:1292) and hundreds of patients were enrolled in clinical trials, which subsequently led to FDA approval in 1997. As a result, an increasing number of patients with ET were being treated with anagrelide until a subsequent controlled study suggested an inferior treatment outcome with anagrelide compared to hydroxyurea (Harrison et al. NEJM 2005;353:33). In the current study, we examined the impact of the corresponding practice changes on overall, myelofibrosis-free and leukemia-free survival, by comparing patients with ET diagnosed before 1988, between 1988 and 1997, and between 1998 and 2005


More than 45,000 patient charts with "thrombocytosis" were reviewed to identify those who met either PVSG (older patient cohort) or WHO criteria for diagnosis of ET. Survival was calculated from time of initial diagnosis to the time of last follow-up or death. For leukemia- or fibrosis-free survival, the time of the transformation events was considered as the uncensored variable. Conventional statistics was utilized for all analyses. Patients were divided into three groups commensurate with changes in treatment practices, corresponding to the aforementioned publications; Group 1 patients were diagnosed prior to 1988 (n =222), Group 2 1988 to 1997 (n =253), and Group 3 1998 to 2005 (n =264).


A total of 739 patients met the above-stipulated criteria (median age 57 years; 65% females). At a median follow-up of 12.2 years (range: 0.01-43.6 years), 368 (50%) deaths, 48 (6.5%) fibrotic transformations and 23 (3%) leukemic transformations were documented. Median overall survival (OS) was 18.6 years. On multivariable analysis, older age (P <0.001), increased leukocyte count (P <0.001), thrombosis history (P =0.04), and male sex (P<0.0001) were identified as predictors of inferior OS. Myelofibrosis-free survival (MFS) was predicted by platelet count <100 x 10(9)/L and lower hemoglobin level (multivariate P values 0.03 and <0.001, respectively). Leukemia-free survival (LFS) was predicted by increased leukocyte count, on multivariable analysis (P =0.002).

Comparison of presenting features and outcome by period of diagnosis:

Significant differences, in presenting features, between groups 1, 2, and 3 included age (median 55, 56, and 59 years, respectively; P =0.003), female preponderance (68, 69, and 58%, respectively; P =0.02), platelet count (1080, 995, and 890 x 10(9)/L, respectively; P <0.001), and leukocyte count (10, 9.6, and 8.4 x 10(9)/L, respectively; P <0.001). Median survival was 20.7 years, 19 years and 14.3 years, in groups 1, 2 and 3, respectively (P =0.02) (Figure 1). However, the difference in survival was no longer apparent during multivariable analysis that included age as a covariate (P=0.88). In univariate analysis, MFS was significantly shorter in group 3 patients (P=0.02; Figure 2); borderline significance was retained during multivariable analysis (p=0.13). LFS was similar among the three groups (P = 0.27).


The results from the current retrospective study suggest increased rate of progression to myelofibrosis in ET patients diagnosed in the anagrelide era, an observation that is consistent with the results from a previous controlled study (Harrison et al. NEJM 2005;353:33). Regardless, survival in ET in the last four decades remains unchanged.


Pardanani:Stemline: Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.