Treatment with 13-cis-retinoic acid in transfusion-dependent patients with myelodysplastic syndrome and decreased toxicity with addition of alpha-tocopherol

Am J Med. 1990 Dec;89(6):739-47. doi: 10.1016/0002-9343(90)90215-y.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the response and tolerance to long-term treatment using 13-cis-retinoic acid (13-CRA) in transfusion-dependent patients with the myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and to determine the effects of therapy on the natural history of the disease.

Patients and methods: Sixty-six consecutive patients with transfusion-dependent MDS seen in a medical school hospital and outpatient clinic from 1981 to 1988 were studied. The first 21 patients were treated with 13-CRA alone and the next 45 patients with 13-CRA plus alpha-tocopherol (AT). We compared responses to and toxicities of therapy, rates of transformation, and survival from onset of therapy in 20 evaluable patients treated with 13-CRA alone and 43 patients treated with 13-CRA plus AT.

Results: Four patients responded (20%) at 4 to 8 months to 13-CRA alone, but this response was associated with considerable toxicity and resulted in cessation of therapy. Among the responders, only one continued therapy and is currently in remission, whereas three discontinued therapy because of toxicity and have had a relapse and died. In the 13-CRA plus AT group, we observed one prolonged complete remission and 10 partial remissions (26%), with a decrease in skin and constitutional toxicities by the addition of AT, which enabled the continuation of 13-CRA indefinitely. Although the response rates were similar in both groups, fewer patients (28% versus 60%) experienced progression to acute leukemia in the 13-CRA plus AT group than in the group receiving 13-CRA alone, who terminated treatment (p = 0.018). A twofold increase in median survival of the RA/RARS and RAEB/CMML patient groups was observed with 13-CRA plus AT but was not significant (p greater than 0.5).

Conclusion: This study shows a 20% to 26% response rate to 13-CRA and suggests that 13-CRA, if given continuously, decreases the rate of progression or transformation to acute leukemia in patients with MDS. The addition of AT ameliorates the toxicity of 13-CRA and allows for long-term treatment with 13-CRA. Since the standard treatment for MDS is currently unsatisfactory, these findings indicate that longer treatment with a non-marrow-suppressive agent such as 13-CRA is important, and further trials to determine the role of 13-CRA plus AT in combination with new recombinant growth factors in the therapy for transfusion-dependent MDS should offer a new approach to a disease common in the elderly population.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Blood Transfusion*
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isotretinoin / administration & dosage
  • Isotretinoin / therapeutic use*
  • Isotretinoin / toxicity
  • Karyotyping
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelodysplastic Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Remission Induction
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Vitamin E / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Vitamin E
  • Isotretinoin