Background: About 65 percent of previously untreated adults with primary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) enter complete remission when treated with cytarabine and an anthracycline. However, such responses are rarely durable when conventional postremission therapy is administered. Uncontrolled trials have suggested that intensive postremission therapy may prolong these complete remissions.
Methods: We treated 1088 adults with newly diagnosed AML with three days of daunorubicin and seven days of cytarabine and randomly assigned patients who had a complete remission to receive four courses of cytarabine at one of three doses: 100 mg per square meter of body-surface area per day for five days by continuous infusion, 400 mg per square meter per day for five days by continuous infusion, or 3 g per square meter in a 3-hour infusion every 12 hours (twice daily) on days 1, 3, and 5. All patients then received four courses of monthly maintenance treatment.
Results: Of the 693 patients who had a complete remission, 596 were randomly assigned to receive postremission cytarabine. After a median follow-up of 52 months, the disease-free survival rates in the three treatment groups were significantly different (P = 0.003). Relative to the 100-mg group, the hazard ratios were 0.67 for the 3-g group (95 percent confidence interval, 0.53 to 0.86) and 0.75 for the 400-mg group (95 percent confidence interval, 0.60 to 0.94). The probability of remaining in continuous complete remission after four years for patients 60 years of age or younger was 24 percent in the 100-mg group, 29 percent in the 400-mg group, and 44 percent in the 3-g group (P = 0.002). In contrast, for patients older than 60, the probability of remaining disease-free after four years was 16 percent or less in each of the three postremission cytarabine groups.
Conclusions: These data support the concept of a dose-response effect for cytarabine in patients with AML who are 60 years of age or younger. The results with the high-dose schedule in this age group are comparable to those reported in similar patients who have undergone allogeneic bone marrow transplantation during a first remission.