Addressing the room for improvement in management of acute promyelocytic leukemia

Eur J Haematol. 2019 Jun;102(6):479-485. doi: 10.1111/ejh.13229. Epub 2019 Apr 7.


Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is highly curable. To achieve high cure rates, targeted therapy with retinoic acid (ATRA) must be started promptly at time of suspected diagnosis. Early death rates (EDRs, ≤30 days from diagnosis) differ markedly in patients treated on clinical trials compared to the general population.

Objectives and methods: We used the comprehensive Danish National Acute Leukemia Registry (DNLR) to investigate the incidence, treatment, EDR, and long-term clinical outcome in APL between 2000 and 2014.

Results: Twenty-two of 41 deaths occurring in 122 APL patients were EDs which were primarily caused by intracranial hemorrhage, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), sepsis, and multiorgan failure. The overall EDR was 18.0%, whereas clinical trial participants had an EDR of 6.7%. Fifteen patients recruited to the NCRI AML17 APL trial from 2010 to 2013 were younger and had decreased mortality (HR 0.18, CI 0.04-0.86, P = 0.02) compared to contemporarily treated patients (n = 15) not recruited to a clinical trial. Performance status, leukemia origin, and Sanz-score were independent prognostic variables.

Conclusions: The very low EDR for on-trial patients is not observed in the general cohort of APL patients. Diagnostic awareness emerges as the greatest clinical challenge in management of APL.

Keywords: acute promyelocytic leukemia; diagnostic awareness; early death; prognosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • Humans
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / diagnosis
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / epidemiology*
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / etiology
  • Leukemia, Promyelocytic, Acute / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion / genetics
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Quality Improvement
  • Registries
  • Translocation, Genetic
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Oncogene Proteins, Fusion
  • PML-RARa bcr1 fusion protein, human