Fifty-one patients with previously untreated or minimally treated chronic myelogenous leukemia in chronic phase received human alpha interferon 3 to 9 X 10(6) units intramuscularly (IM) daily until complete hematologic remission, then at doses ranging from 3 X 10(6) units every other day to 9 X 10(6) units daily. Forty-one (80%) patients achieved a hematologic response, 36 (71%) of them attaining a complete hematologic remission with normal peripheral WBC and differential counts. Responding patients showed continuous but slow normalization of several other blood and marrow parameters including platelet counts, serum lactic dehydrogenase and B12 levels, and marrow cellularity and maturation index. Suppression of the Philadelphia chromosome on serial cytogenetic studies of marrow metaphases was documented in 20 of the 36 patients who achieved complete hematologic remission (56%; 39% of total group), eight of whom (22%) had a decrease of the Philadelphia chromosome-positive metaphases to less than 35%. These changes were persistent for 6 months or longer in 18 patients, seven of whom had continuous suppression of the Philadelphia chromosome to less than 90% for a median of 30+ months (range 21+ to 39+ months). After a median follow-up period of 37 months, 25 patients remain in continued disease control with interferon therapy. The projected 3-year survival rate is 76%, with a yearly death rate of 6%, 9%, and 9% in the first 3 years. Response, Philadelphia chromosome suppression, and survival were significantly better among patients in the low-risk category compared to intermediate- and high-risk categories, as defined by a multivariate analysis-derived prognostic model. The projected 3- year survival rate was 94% for patients who achieved a complete hematologic remission on interferon therapy and 45% for those who did not. Thirteen patients have developed blastic crisis, six with lymphoid and three with undifferentiated morphology. We conclude that human leukocyte alpha interferon effectively controls chronic myeloid leukemia and allows reappearance of diploid hemopoietic cells in some patients.