The clinical response and survival of 113 patients with at least 3-year follow-up after treatment with fludarabine as a single agent for chronic lymphocytic leukemia has been evaluated. Seventy-eight patients were previously treated and 35 were untreated. The response to therapy and survival were strongly correlated with the degree of previous therapy, the stage of disease, and whether or not the patients were refractory to alkylating agents. Other characteristics associated with survival were the age of the patient and the serum albumin level at the start of therapy. The median time to progression of responders who had not received prior therapy was 33 months and was 21 months for previously treated patients. Survival after progression of disease was also strongly correlated with the degree of prior therapy. No successful salvage regimen after initial fludarabine therapy was shown for patients refractory to alkylating agents, although fludarabine achieved further remissions in patients who had received fludarabine as their initial treatment or were not refractory to alkylating agents. The morbidity of patients in unmaintained remission on discontinuation of fludarabine was low, with less than one episode of infection per patient-year at risk. The morbidity during this time was correlated with clinical response and whether the patients had received prior therapy. Although fludarabine is a very effective cytoreductive regimen, most patients, including those who achieved true complete remissions, will have recurrent disease. Longer follow-up and comparative trials are required before the effect of fludarabine on survival is shown.

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