Abstract

Background: In a previously published single-center study (Blood 2000) we randomized 108 consecutive adult patients with a malignant hematological disorder undergoing allogeneic bone marrow transplantation from an HLA-identical sibling donor to receive (n=53) or not to receive (n=55) methylprednisolone (MP+ or MP-, respectively) as a part of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) prophylaxis. All patients received cyclosporine A and methotrexate. MP administration was initiated on day 14 post-transplantation with 0.5 mg/kg, the dose was increased to 1 mg/kg on day 21 and thereafter tapered and discontinued on day 110. The cumulative incidence of acute GVHD was 19 % among the patients given and 56 % among those not given MP prophylaxis (p=0.0001), and that of grade II-IV acute GVHD 13 and 36 %, respectively (p=0.005). There was a non-significant trend toward a lower cumulative incidence of chronic GVHD (cGVHD) and better survival in the MP+ group. There were fewer infections and the stay at hospital was shorter among the patients given MP prophylaxis. No difference was seen in the relapse rate. We have now carried out a long-term follow-up to find out possible late effects of the intensified GVHD prophylaxis.

Results: The median follow-up time of living patients was 24.5 (range 22.7-26.9) years; two patients were lost for follow-up at 37 and 80 months. In the MP+ group the overall survival (OS, p=0.021) (Figure 1) and relapse-free survival (RFS, p=0.024) were significantly higher and the non-relapse mortality (NRM) lower (p=0.003) than in the MP- group. There was a trend toward lower cumulative incidence of cGVHD in the MP+ group (36 vs. 48 %, p=0.17). The prevalence of cGVHD, analyzed with data available from ten years of scheduled follow-up, was significantly (p=0.031) lower in the MP+ group and the difference became more marked with time. Among the patients alive at ten years, none in the MP+ group but 28 % of the patients in the MP- group had active cGVHD. There was no difference in the relapse rate between the MP+ and MP- groups, the cumulative incidences were 36 and 38 %, respectively. Seven patients in each group developed a secondary malignancy, one patient in both groups had two secondary tumors. At 15 years, the survival was 55 % in the MP+ group and 47 % in the MP- group, and the NRM 21 and 30 %, respectively. Thereafter there was marked non-relapse mortality in the MP- group, eleven patients died after this time point, whereas there were no deaths during this period in the MP+ arm. At the end of the follow-up, the OS in the MP+ and MP- groups were 55 and 20 % and the RFS 54 and 18 %, respectively. The causes of the late deaths in the MP- group were: bacterial infection 3, obstructive bronchiolitis 1, acute myocardial infarction 1, intracerebral bleeding 1, sudden death of unknown cause 1, lung cancer 2, colon cancer 1, and esophagus cancer 1.

Conclusion: The addition of corticosteroid to cyclosporine and methotrexate in GVHD prophylaxis, resulting in a marked decrease in the incidence of acute GVHD, did not cause adverse late effects. Long-term survival was higher among the patients given MP prophylaxis. Unexpectedly, there was marked late non-relapse mortality in the group not given MP prophylaxis, possibly contributed to by the higher prevalence of cGVHD.

Disclosures

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.