Background and methods: Recent studies have shown that long-term survivors of acquired aplastic anemia may be at high risk for malignant diseases. We assessed the risk of cancer after aplastic anemia was treated with immunosuppression or bone marrow transplantation and sought to identify risk factors according to treatment. The study population consisted of 860 patients treated by immunosuppression and 748 patients who had received bone marrow transplants for the treatment of severe aplastic anemia. The risk of cancer was analyzed overall and according to treatment relative to the risk in the general population. In calculating relative risk, we excluded patients with myelodysplastic syndromes or acute leukemias arising less than 6 months after treatment, and solid cancers arising less than 12 months after treatment, because of a possible association with aplastic anemia itself rather than with the treatment received.
Results: Forty-two malignant conditions were reported in the 860 patients who received immunosuppressive therapy: 19 cases of myelodysplastic syndrome, 15 cases of acute leukemia, 1 case of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and 7 solid tumors. Nine were reported in the 748 patients who received bone marrow transplants: two cases of acute leukemia and seven solid tumors. After the exclusions listed above, the overall relative risk of cancer was 5.50 (P < 0.001) as compared with that in the general European population; the risk was 5.15 (P < 0.001) after immunosuppressive therapy and 6.67 (P < 0.001) after transplantation. The 10-year cumulative incidence rate of cancer was 18.8 percent after immunosuppressive therapy and 3.1 percent after transplantation. The risk factors for myelodysplastic syndrome or acute leukemia after immunosuppressive therapy included the addition of androgens to the immunosuppressive treatment (relative risk = 0.28), older age (relative risk = 1.03), treatment in 1982 or later, as compared with 1981 or earlier (relative risk = 3.01), splenectomy (relative risk = 3.65), and treatment with multiple courses of immunosuppression (relative risk = 2.26). Risk factors for solid tumors after bone marrow transplantation were age (relative risk = 1.11 per year) and the use of radiation as a conditioning regimen before transplantation (relative risk = 9.56); such tumors occurred only in male patients.
Conclusions: Survivors of aplastic anemia are at high risk for subsequent malignant conditions. Myelodysplastic syndrome and acute leukemia tend to follow immunosuppressive therapy, whereas the incidence of solid tumors is similar after immunosuppression and after bone marrow transplantation.