Small pilot studies of patients with CML have reported on encouraging response rates after treatment with interferon-alpha (IFNalpha) in combination with low-dose cytosine arabinoside (LD ara-C). We therefore initiated a multi-center phase II trial in order to investigate the efficacy and tolerability of this combination in newly diagnosed patients with Ph-positive chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). Eighty-four patients were treated with IFN-alpha-2c at daily subcutaneous doses of 3.5 MU and LD ara-C added subcutaneously for 10 days every month at a dose of 10 mg/m2, following an initial reduction of WBC to less than 20 x 10(9)/l with hydroxyurea (HU). Within a median observation period of 28 (5-59) months the patients received a median of 7 (1-35) IFNalpha and LD ara-C cycles. Treatment was stopped due to side effects in 16 cases (19%) and to primary or secondary treatment failure in 38 cases (45%). In 45 patients (54%) complete hematological response (CHR) was achieved; in 39 patients (46%) cytogenetic responses including 15 (18%) complete cytogenetic responses (CHR) were observed. Median duration of cytogenetic responses was 15 months. Relapses were seen in 8/15 patients (53%) with complete cytogenetic remission (CCR), in 3/6 patients (50%) with partial cytogenetic response and in 9/18 patients (50%) with minor cytogenetic response. In conclusion, the combination of IFNalpha and LD ara-C resulted in encouraging rates of hematological and cytogenetic responses in patients with CML with low to moderate toxicity.