Leukemic transformation in polycythemia vera: analysis of risk factors

S Nand, H Messmore, S G Fisher, M L Bird, W Schulz, R I Fisher
American Journal of Hematology 1990, 34 (1): 32-6
Forty-eight patients with polycythemia vera (PV) were retrospectively studied for incidence of acute leukemia over a 12 year period. Initial clinical features, hemogram, RBC mass, B12 levels, neutrophil alkaline phosphatase (NAP), and therapy given were studied for association with development of acute leukemia. There were 25 males and mean age at diagnosis was 61.4 years. Initial Hg was 18.38 +/- 1.86 g/dl, WBC 16.44 +/- 12.92 (x 1,000/mm3), platelets 632.94 +/- 303.81 (x 1,000/mm3), B12 1,030.93 +/- 445.20 pg/ml, and neutrophil alkaline phosphatase (NAP) score 136.63 +/- 55.14. Twenty-three patients were treated with phlebotomy alone and 25 received additional myelosuppressive therapy as follows--2 received p32 alone, 4 alkylating agents alone, 8 hydroxyurea (HU) alone, and 11 received 2 or more (multiple) of these agents. None of those treated with phlebotomy alone but 6 of 25 (24%) patients given myelosuppressive therapy developed acute leukemia (P = .03) after a mean period of 46.8 months from start of myelosuppressive therapy. Four of the 11 patients (36%) receiving multiple agent therapy developed acute leukemia (P = .019). Initial hemoglobin levels, but not the other clinical parameters, were significantly higher in patients who developed acute leukemia (P = .002), and this difference persisted in various subgroups receiving myelosuppressive therapy. Thus, high initial hemoglobin and use of any myelosuppressive therapy are associated with an increased risk of leukemic transformation in polycythemia vera. This risk becomes substantial with the use of two or more myelosuppressive agents. Since myelosuppressive therapy does not prolong survival, its role in the management of polycythemia vera should be reexamined.

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