Arsenic trioxide in comparison with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation for the treatment of relapsed acute promyelocytic leukaemia

Ann Oncol. 2003 May;14(5):752-7. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdg208.


Background: The best overall treatment strategy for patients with acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL) in relapse with chemotherapy, bone marrow transplantation (BMT) or arsenic trioxide (As(2)O(3)) based therapy remains undefined.

Patients and methods: We reviewed the clinical course and treatment outcome of 143 APL cases seen in four major hospitals in Hong Kong over a 10-year period.

Results: Complete remission (CR) was attained in 113 cases (79%) with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) and chemotherapy. Relapse occurred at a median of 16 months in 54 cases, with a 3-year disease free survival of 56%. Post-relapse treatment was successful in 41 cases (76%), giving an actuarial 3-year overall survival (OS) of 81% from CR1. Three different protocols were used: chemotherapy alone (n = 19), allogeneic BMT (n = 14) and an As(2)O(3)-based regimen (n = 21). Chemotherapy was associated with the highest treatment-related mortality (TRM) at 53%, giving a CR2 rate of 47%. TRM was 36% for BMT. The CR2 rate for the As(2)O(3)-based regimen was 100%, with no TRM. However, 38% of As(2)O(3) treated patients had subsequent relapses, which were further salvaged in 75% by combined As(2)O(3) plus ATRA. The actuarial OS for the three protocols leveled off by 2 years at 82% for As(2)O(3), 43% for BMT and 23% for chemotherapy (P = 0.0004).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that As(2)O(3) may be superior to chemotherapy and BMT for the treatment of APL in relapse.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arsenic Trioxide
  • Arsenicals / therapeutic use*
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / mortality
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxides / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Survival Rate


  • Arsenicals
  • Oxides
  • Arsenic Trioxide