The global problem of early deaths in acute promyelocytic leukemia: A strategy to decrease induction mortality in the most curable leukemia

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45 Scopus citations


Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) is a hyper-acute illness and presents with profound cytopenias in most patients and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Excellent treatment options are now available with drugs such as all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), arsenic trioxide (ATO), anthracyclines and cytarabine. The outcome in APL has improved tremendously in the last 50 years due to better understanding of the disease, development of effective targeted agents and improvement in supportive care. Carefully selected groups of patients treated in large multi-center trials on a protocol and in experienced centers have shown survival rates in excess of 85%. However population data and other studies show that approximately 30% of patients die during induction. This is an Institutional, national and global problem and remains a pressing and frustrating challenge in APL. While most APL experts are aware of the high rate of early deaths (ED), such awareness is not typically present among general hematologists and oncologists. Our area of focus over the last 7 years has been the reduction of ED in both academic and community centers; as a result we have acquired substantial experience in APL induction. Two centers have implemented population-wide prospective trials; Brazil and Georgia/South Carolina, USA with improvement in the ED rate. Both centers used standardized guidelines along with consultative support and sharing of expertise which proved effective and helped to decrease ED. Induction mortality in APL is 30% or greater. We believe ED is largely preventable and population-wide survival can be improved. An effective strategy is to utilize a set of simplified treatment guidelines coupled with support from a group of experts during induction. Treating oncologists in both academic and community hospitals should receive aggressive education about ED and be encouraged to seek advice from a core group of established APL experts. This model could be implemented nationally to improve population-wide survival in this most curable leukemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalBlood Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • APL early deaths
  • APL induction
  • Acute promyelocytic leukemia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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