Background: Bone marrow failure disorders include a heterogenous group of disorders, of which myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), forms the largest subgroup. MDS is predominantly a disease of the elderly, with many elderly people managed conservatively with regular allogeneic red blood cell (RBC) transfusions to treat their anaemia. However, RBC transfusions are not without risk. Despite regular transfusions playing a central role in treating such patients, the optimal RBC transfusion strategy (restrictive versus liberal) is currently unclear.
Objectives: To assess the efficacy and safety of a restrictive versus liberal red blood cell transfusion strategy for patients with myelodysplasia, acquired aplastic anaemia, and other inherited bone marrow failure disorders.
Search methods: We searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2015, Issue 4), Ovid MEDLINE (from 1946), Ovid EMBASE (from 1974), EBSCO CINAHL (from 1937), the Transfusion Evidence Library (from 1980) and ongoing trial databases to 26th May 2015.
Selection criteria: RCTs including patients with long-term bone marrow failure disorders that require allogeneic blood transfusion, who are not being actively treated with a haematopoietic stem cell transplant, or intensive chemotherapy.
Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane review methodology. One author initially screened all references, and excluded any that were clearly irrelevant or duplicates. Two authors then independently screened all abstracts of articles, identified by the review search strategy, for relevancy. Two authors independently assessed the full text of all potentially relevant articles for eligibility, completed the data extraction and assessed the studies for risk of bias using The Cochrane Collaboration's 'Risk of bias' tool.
Main results: We included one trial (13 participants) and identified three ongoing trials that assess RBC transfusion strategies in people with MDS.The quality of the evidence was very low across different outcomes according to GRADE methodology.The one included study randomised participants to a restrictive [haemoglobin (Hb) transfusion trigger < 72 g/L, 8 participants] or liberal [Hb trigger < 96 g/L, 5 participants] transfusion policy. There was insufficient evidence to determine a difference in all-cause mortality (1 RCT; 13 participants; RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.01 to 2.32; very low quality evidence). There was insufficient evidence to determine a difference in the number of red blood cell transfusions (1 RCT; 13 participants; 1.8 units per patient per month in the liberal group, compared to 0.8 in the restrictive arm, no standard deviation was reported; very low quality evidence). There were no anaemia-related complications reported (cardiac failure) and no reported effect on activity levels (no statistics provided). The study did not report: mortality due to bleeding/infection/transfusion reactions or iron overload, quality of life, frequency and length of hospital admissions, serious infections (requiring admission to hospital), or serious bleeding (e.g. WHO/CTCAE grade 3 (or equivalent) or above).
Authors' conclusions: This review indicates that there is currently a lack of evidence for the recommendation of a particular transfusion strategy for bone marrow failure patients undergoing supportive treatment only. The one RCT included in this review was only published as an abstract and contained only 13 participants. Further randomised trials with robust methodology are required to develop the optimal transfusion strategy for such patients, particularly as the incidence of the main group of bone marrow failure disorders, MDS, rises with an ageing population.