A randomized comparison of all transretinoic acid (ATRA) followed by chemotherapy and ATRA plus chemotherapy and the role of maintenance therapy in newly diagnosed acute promyelocytic leukemia. The European APL Group

Blood. 1999 Aug 15;94(4):1192-200.


All transretinoic acid (ATRA) followed by daunorubicin (DNR)-AraC chemotherapy (CT) has improved the outcome of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) by comparison to CT alone. In a randomized trial, (1) we compared 2 induction schedules (ATRA followed by CT [ATRA-->CT] and ATRA plus CT [ATRA+CT, with CT added on day 3 of ATRA treatment]) and (2) we assessed the role of maintenance treatment. Four hundred thirteen patients </=75 years of age and with newly diagnosed APL were included. Induction treatment was stratified on white blood cell (WBC) count and age: patients </=65 years of age and with an initial WBC count of </=5,000/microL (n = 208) were randomized between ATRA-->CT and ATRA+CT (initially randomized patients); patients with a WBC count greater than (high WBC count group, n = 163) and patients 66 to 75 years of age with a WBC count greater than 5,000/microL (elderly group, n = 42) were not initially randomized and received ATRA+CT from day 1 and ATRA -->CT, respectively. All patients achieving CR received 2 additional DNR-AraC courses (only 1 in patients 66 to 75 years of age) and were then randomized for maintenance between no treatment, intermittent ATRA (15 days every 3 months) for 2 years, continuous low-dose CT (6 mercaptopurine + methotrexate) for 2 years, or both, using a 2-by-2 factorial design. Overall, 381 (92%) of the patients achieved complete remission (CR), 31 (7%) suffered an early death, and only 1 patient had leukemic resistance. ATRA syndrome occurred in 64 patients (15%) and was fatal in 5 cases. The CR rate was similar in all induction treatment groups. Event-free survival (EFS) was significantly lower in the high WBC group (P =.0002) and close to significance in the elderly group (P =.086) as compared with initially randomized patients. Relapse at 2 years was estimated at 6% in the ATRA+CT group, versus 16% in the ATRA-->CT group (P =.04, relative risk [RR] =.41). EFS at 2 years was estimated at 84% in the ATRA+CT group, versus 77% in the ATRA-->CT group (P =.1, RR =.62). Two hundred eighty-nine patients were randomized for maintenance. The 2-year relapse rate was 11% in patients randomized to continuous maintenance CT and 27% in patients randomized to no CT (P =.0002) and 13% in patients randomized to intermittent ATRA and 25% in patients randomized to no ATRA (P =.02). An additive effect of continuous maintenance CT and intermittent ATRA was seen, and only 6 of the 74 patients who received both maintenance treatments had relapsed. Overall survival was improved in patients who received maintenance CT (P =.01), and there was a trend for better survival in patients who received maintenance ATRA (P =.22). Our findings strongly suggest that early addition of chemotherapy to ATRA and maintenance therapy combining continuous CT and intermittent ATRA can reduce the incidence of relapse in APL. This effect already translates into significantly better survival for maintenance treatment with continuous CT.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / pathology
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mercaptopurine / administration & dosage
  • Methotrexate / administration & dosage
  • Middle Aged
  • Remission Induction
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tretinoin / administration & dosage*


  • Tretinoin
  • Mercaptopurine
  • Methotrexate