Background and methods: Immunosuppression is the most effective treatment for patients with aplastic anemia, except for bone marrow transplantation. The best results are achieved with antilymphocyte globulin or cyclosporine. Patients have been treated successfully with a combination of both agents, but there has been no controlled evaluation of its efficacy. We conducted a randomized, multicenter trial in 84 patients not eligible for bone marrow transplantation, comparing treatment with antilymphocyte globulin and methylprednisolone (41 patients--the control group) with antilymphocyte globulin, methylprednisolone, and cyclosporine (43 patients--the cyclosporine group).
Results: At three months significantly more patients in the cyclosporine group had a complete or partial remission in response to treatment than did patients in the control group (65 percent vs. 39 percent, P less than 0.03); this difference was confirmed at six months (70 percent vs. 46 percent, P less than 0.05). The superior results of the regimen including cyclosporine were most evident in the patients with severe or very severe aplastic anemia, whose response rate at six months was 65 percent, as compared with 31 percent of such patients in the control group (P less than 0.02). Granulocyte and hemoglobin levels became normal in most patients who responded, but platelet counts continued to be subnormal in 61 percent of the patients. Ten of 52 patients with responses (3 in the cyclosporine group and 7 in the control group) relapsed 4 to 37 months after treatment. The actuarial survival of all patients at 41 months is 64 percent in the cyclosporine group and 58 percent in the control group (P = 0.16); among the patients with severe or very severe disease, survival is 80 percent and 44 percent, respectively (P = 0.077). Cyclosporine had substantial but reversible side effects.
Conclusions: Immunosuppressive treatment of aplastic anemia with antilymphocyte globulin, methylprednisolone, and cyclosporine appears to be more effective than a regimen of antilymphocyte globulin and methylprednisolone without cyclosporine and may thus represent a treatment of choice for patients who are not eligible for bone marrow transplantation.