Low-dose Hydroxychloroquine Is as Effective as Phlebotomy in Treatment of Patients With Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Dec;10(12):1402-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2012.08.038. Epub 2012 Sep 14.


Background & aims: Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT) is an iron-related disorder caused by reduced activity of hepatic uroporphyrinogen decarboxylase; it can be treated by phlebotomy or low doses of hydroxychloroquine. We performed a prospective pilot study to compare the efficacy and safety of these therapies.

Methods: We analyzed data from 48 consecutive patients with well-documented PCT to characterize susceptibility factors; patients were treated with phlebotomy (450 mL, every 2 weeks until they had serum ferritin levels of 20 ng/mL) or low-dose hydroxychloroquine (100 mg orally, twice weekly, until at least 1 month after they had normal plasma levels of porphyrin). We compared the time required to achieve a normal plasma porphyrin concentration (remission, the primary outcome) for 17 patients treated with phlebotomy and 13 treated with hydroxychloroquine.

Results: The time to remission was a median 6.9 months for patients who received phlebotomy and 6.1 months for patients treated with hydroxychloroquine treatment (6.7 and 6.5 mo for randomized patients), a difference that was not significant (log-rank, P = .06 and P = .95, respectively). The sample size was insufficient to confirm noninferiority of hydroxychloroquine treatment (hazard ratio, 2.19; 95% confidence interval, 0.95-5.06) for all patients. Patients who received hydroxychloroquine had substantially better compliance. There were no significant side effects of either treatment.

Conclusions: Hydroxychloroquine, 100 mg twice weekly, is as effective and safe as phlebotomy in patients with PCT, although noninferiority was not established. Given these results, higher-dose regimens of hydroxychloroquine, which have more side effects, do not seem justified. Compliance was better and projected costs were lower for hydroxychloroquine than phlebotomy treatment. Long-term studies are needed to compare durability of response. ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01573754.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / administration & dosage*
  • Hydroxychloroquine / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phlebotomy / adverse effects
  • Phlebotomy / methods*
  • Plasma / chemistry
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda / drug therapy*
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda / surgery*
  • Porphyrins / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Porphyrins
  • Hydroxychloroquine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01573754