Purpose: To assess the effect of erythropoietin (EPO) plus granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) treatment on survival and leukemic transformation in myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
Patients and methods: We compared the long-term outcome of patients with MDS treated with EPO plus G-CSF (n = 121) with untreated patients (n = 237) with MDS using multivariate Cox regression with delayed entry, for the first time adjusting for all major prognostic variables (WHO classification, karyotype, cytopenias, level of transfusion-need, age, and sex).
Results: The erythroid response rate to EPO plus G-CSF was 39%, and the median response duration 23 months (range, 3 to 116+). In the multivariate analysis, treatment was associated with improved overall survival (hazard ratio, 0.61; 95% CI, 0.44 to 0.83; P = .002). Interestingly, this positive association was primarily observed in patients requiring fewer than 2 units of RBCs per month. Treatment was not linked to the rate of acute myeloid leukemia in any defined subgroup, including patients with an increase of marrow blasts or an unfavorable karyotype.
Conclusion: The inherent risk of leukemic evolution in MDS makes the current investigation highly relevant, in light of the recent reports of potential negative effects of EPO treatment on outcome in patients with cancer. We conclude that treatment of anemia in MDS with EPO plus G-CSF may have a positive impact on outcome in patients with no or low transfusion need, while not affecting the risk of leukemic transformation.