In a randomized multicenter study the influence of hydroxyurea versus busulfan on the duration of the chronic phase and on survival of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) was determined. In addition cross resistance and adverse reactions of the drugs were analyzed. From July 1983 to January 1991, 441 CML patients were randomized to receive hydroxyurea or busulfan. Of these, 90.7% were Philadelphia positive; 25.7% were low, 38.2% intermediate, and 36.2% high risk patients according to Sokal's score. The median survival of the busulfan treated Philadelphia-positive patients is 45.4 months and of the hydroxyurea group 58.2 months (P = .008). The survival advantage for the hydroxyurea treated patients is recognized in all risk groups. Sixty four patients reached therapy resistance before blast crisis and were crossed over to the alternative drug. The 23 patients with primary hydroxyurea had a median survival of 5.6 years, the 41 patients with primary busulfan therapy a median survival of 2.7 years (P = .02). Adverse reactions were less frequent with hydroxyurea with no severe adverse effects (lung fibrosis, long lasting bone marrow aplasia). The analysis of white blood cell counts in the course of treatment showed lower counts in the hydroxyurea patients. We conclude that hydroxyurea is superior to busulfan in therapy of CML in chronic phase and should be used as first line therapy. Busulfan may have a role as secondary therapy after hydroxyurea resistance or intolerance.