Purpose: Therapy of hairy cell leukemia has markedly improved. Interferon alfa-2a and pentostatin are active agents. The National Cancer Institute organized an intergroup trial to compare these agents prospectively in untreated patients.
Methods: Patients were randomized to receive either interferon alfa-2a (3 x 10(6) U subcutaneously three times per week) or pentostatin (4 mg/m2 intravenously every 2 weeks). Patients who did not respond to initial treatment were crossed over.
Results: Of 356 patients on study, 313 were eligible. Among interferon patients, 17 of 159 (11%) achieved a confirmed complete remission and 60 of 159 (38%) had a confirmed complete or partial remission. Among pentostatin patients, 117 of 154 (76%) achieved a confirmed complete remission and 121 of 154 (79%) had a confirmed complete or partial remission. Additional patients achieved criteria for complete remission, but lacked confirmatory follow-up evaluation. Response rates were significantly higher (P < .0001) and relapse-free survival was significantly longer with pentostatin than interferon (P < .0001). The median follow-up duration is 57 months (range, 19 to 82). Myelosuppression was more frequent with pentostatin (P = .013). A multivariate logistic regression analysis of the confirmed complete remissions on pentostatin showed the following factors to be important for achieving a complete remission: high hemoglobin level (two-tailed P = .024), young age (P = .0085), and no or little splenomegaly (P = .0029).
Conclusion: Both agents were well tolerated. Pentostatin produced higher response rates, and the responses were durable. Patient age and clinical status had an impact on outcome with pentostatin. Pentostatin is effective therapy for hairy cell leukemia.