Acute Leukemias

A decision analysis of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in adult patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first remission who have an HLA-matched sibling donor

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Abstract

Clinical studies using genetic randomization cannot accurately answer whether adult patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who have a human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-matched sibling should undergo allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or chemotherapy in first remission, as, in these studies, patients without a sibling donor undergo alternative donor transplantation or chemotherapy alone after a relapse. Therefore, we performed a decision analysis to identify the optimal strategy in this setting. Transition probabilities and utilities were estimated from prospective studies of the Japan Adult Leukemia Study Group, the database of the Japan Society for Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and the literature. The primary outcome measure was the 10-year survival probability with or without quality of life (QOL) adjustments. Subgroup analyses were performed according to risk stratification on the basis of white blood cell count and cytogenetics, and according to age stratification. In analyses without QOL adjustments, allogeneic HSCT in first remission was superior in the whole population (48.3 vs 32.6%) and in all subgroups. With QOL adjustments, a similar tendency was conserved (44.9 vs 31.7% in the whole population). To improve the probability of long-term survival, allogeneic HSCT in first remission is recommended for patients who have an HLA-matched sibling.

Introduction

With modern intensive chemotherapy, 74–93% of adult patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) achieve complete remission. However, the overall survival rate is only 27–48% because of the high rate of relapse.1 Therefore, the establishment of optimal postremission therapy is important. The efficacy of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for adult patients with ALL in first remission has been demonstrated through clinical studies using genetic randomization, in which patients with a human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-matched sibling donor were allocated to the allogeneic HSCT arm, and those without a donor were placed in the chemotherapy or autologous transplantation arm. First, the LALA-87 trial showed that overall survival in patients with a donor was better than that in patients without a donor in a subgroup analysis of patients with high-risk characteristics.2 A meta-analysis of seven similar studies confirmed that the donor group was superior to the non-donor group in patients with high-risk ALL in first remission.3 However, such genetic randomization studies cannot accurately answer the question of whether patients with an HLA-matched sibling should undergo allogeneic HSCT or chemotherapy in first remission. In these studies, patients without a sibling donor had to choose transplantation from an alternative donor or chemotherapy alone once they had a relapse. The outcome of these treatments has been reported to be inferior to that of HSCT from an HLA-matched sibling donor in patients with relapsed ALL; therefore, the expected survival after the decision to continue chemotherapy in first remission in patients without a sibling donor is assumed to be originally poorer than that in patients with a sibling donor. However, it is practically difficult to perform a clinical trial in which patients with an HLA-matched sibling in first remission are randomly assigned to receive allogeneic HSCT or chemotherapy alone. Another important problem has been poor compliance with the assigned treatment in some studies. In addition, previous genetic randomization studies did not consider the quality of life (QOL), especially that associated with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Therefore, we performed a decision analysis incorporating QOL adjustments using a decision tree based on the results of Japan Adult Leukemia Study Group (JALSG) prospective studies (ALL934 and ALL975), the database of the Japan Society for Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation (JSHCT)6 and literature. Patients with Philadelphia chromosome (Ph)-positive ALL were not included in our analysis because the outcome of treatment in these patients has improved dramatically since tyrosine kinase inhibitors became available.7

Recently, the Medical Research Council/Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (MRC/ECOG) trial demonstrated the efficacy of allogeneic HSCT in ALL patients and in standard-risk patients, but not in high-risk patients,8 which was inconsistent with previous studies. This difference might partly depend on the definition of high-risk patients. In the MRC/ECOG study, an age of higher than 35 years was considered to be a high-risk factor. Therefore, we performed separate subgroup analyses according to risk stratification on the basis of white blood cell count and cytogenetics, and according to age stratification with a cutoff of 35 years.

Methods

Model structure

We constructed a decision tree (Figure 1) to identify the optimal treatment strategy for adult patients with Ph-negative ALL in first remission who have an HLA-matched sibling.9, 10 The square at the left represents a decision node. We can decide to either proceed to allogeneic HSCT or continue chemotherapy in first remission. We did not include a decision to perform autologous HSCT, as autologous HSCT has not been shown to be superior to chemotherapy alone in a meta-analysis.3 Circles, called chance nodes, follow each decision, and each chance node has two or three possible outcomes with a specific probability called the transition probability (TP). Every branch finally ends with triangles, called terminal nodes, and each terminal node has an assigned payoff value, called utility, according to different health states. Calculations were performed backward, from right to left in the decision tree. The sum of the products of TPs and utilities of the branches becomes the expected value for each chance node, and eventually the sum of the expected values in all of the chance nodes following the decision nodes becomes the expected value of each decision. The following analyses were performed using TreeAge Pro 2009 software (Williamstown, MA, USA). This study was approved by the Committee for Nationwide Survey Data Management of JSHCT, and the Institutional Review Board of Jichi Medical University.

Figure 1
figure1

Decision tree used in this study. Decision analysis was performed on the basis of a decision tree. A square indicates a decision node and open circles indicate chance nodes. In analyses with a QOL adjustment, ‘Alive’ after transplantation was followed by two branches with or without active chronic GVHD. *HSCT was not performed because of early relapse, death and so on. ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia; CR, complete remission; NRM, non-relapse mortality.

Data sources

Outcomes after continuing chemotherapy in first remission were estimated from JASLG studies (ALL93 and ALL97). Patients with Ph-negative ALL, aged 15–54 years, were included, and those who never achieved remission with chemotherapy were excluded. Data from 122 patients in ALL93 and 119 patients from ALL97 were analyzed separately, and then combined by weighting the number of patients. Outcomes after allogeneic HSCT in various disease statuses were estimated from the database of the JSHCT. Patients with Ph-negative ALL, aged 16–54 years, who underwent a first myeloablative allogeneic HSCT from a serologically HLA-A, -B, -DR loci-matched sibling between 1993 and 2007 were included. Of them, 408, 61, 14 and 94 patients were in first remission, second remission, third or later remission and non-remission, respectively, at allogeneic HSCT.

The characteristics of the patients included in this study are summarized in Table 1. There was no significant difference in their baseline characteristics. To determine the following TPs, overall survival and leukemia-free survival (LFS) with a 95% confidence interval (CI) were calculated using the Kaplan–Meier method, whereas the cumulative incidences of non-relapse mortality and relapse with 95% CI were calculated using Gray's method,11 considering each other as a competing risk. Probabilities that we could not estimate from these data were estimated from the literature.

Table 1 Patient characteristics in the three data sources

Transition probabilities (TPs) and utilities

TPs of the whole population were determined as summarized in Table 2. Each TP has a baseline value and a plausible range. Baseline decision analyses were performed on the basis of baseline values.

Table 2 Transition probabilities of the whole population

Patients may have been precluded from undergoing allogeneic HSCT because of early relapse or comorbidities even if they decided to undergo allogeneic HSCT, and therefore the TP of actually undergoing allogeneic HSCT in first remission after the decision branch to undergo allogeneic HSCT was determined as follows: first, the median duration between the achievement of first remission and HSCT without relapse was calculated as 152 days on the basis of JSHCT data. Next, LFS rates at 152 days after achieving first remission were calculated using the data of all patients who achieved remission in the JALSG studies, and the combined LFS was 0.80 (95% CI: 0.76–0.85). We considered this to be the TP for actually receiving HSCT in first remission, and assigned a baseline value of 0.80 and 95% CI to the plausible range. Similarly, patients may be precluded from undergoing allogeneic HSCT even though they have achieved second remission after they had a relapse of leukemia following a decision to continue chemotherapy. This TP of undergoing allogeneic HSCT in second remission could not be calculated from our data. We assigned a plausible range of 0.5–0.80; the former value was the only available rate in a large study12 and the latter was the TP calculated above. The median of this range was taken as the baseline value. Probabilities regarding the actual rate of receiving HSCT in other disease statuses could not be obtained, even in the literature. Therefore, a baseline value of 0.5 was assigned with a wide plausible range of 0.3–0.7, although these values may not be closely related to the final expected value, as the probability of survival after receiving HSCT in these situations was extremely low. The TPs of ‘Alive at 10 years’ following HSCT in various disease statuses were determined on the basis of the JSHCT database. We assigned 95% CI to the plausible ranges.

The TPs of ‘Alive without relapse at 10 years’ and non-relapse mortality following chemotherapy in first remission were determined on the basis of JALSG studies, and the TP of relapse following chemotherapy was determined by subtracting the sum of these TPs from 1. The TP of achieving second remission after relapse in patients who decided not to undergo allogeneic HSCT in first remission was estimated to have a baseline value of 0.4, with a plausible range of 0.3–0.5 based on the literature.12, 13, 14

The primary outcome measure was the 10-year survival probability as described in the Discussion. The survival curve nearly reaches a plateau after 5 years and therefore ‘Alive at 10 years’ reflects ‘Cure of leukemia’, which is the primary goal of allogeneic HSCT. First, we considered only two kinds of health states, ‘Alive at 10 years’ and ‘Dead’, and assigned utility values of 100 to the former and 0 to the latter without considering QOL. Next, we performed a decision analysis while adjusting for QOL. ‘Alive after chemotherapy without relapse at 10 years’, ‘Alive with active GVHD at 10 years’ and ‘Alive without active GVHD at 10 years’ were considered as different health states. The proportion of patients with active GVHD among those who were alive at 10 years was determined on the basis of the literature.15, 16, 17 We assigned a value of 100 to the utility for being alive without relapse at 10 years after chemotherapy alone, and a value of 0 to the utility for being dead in all situations. We assigned a fixed value of 98 to the utility for being alive without active GVHD at 10 years following HSCT, and assigned a value of 70 with a wide plausible range of 0–98 to the utility for being alive with active GVHD at 10 years. These utilities were determined on the basis of opinions of 10 doctors who were familiar with HSCT and the literature.9, 18

Subgroup analyses were also performed according to risk stratification on the basis of white blood cell count and cytogenetics, and according to age stratification with a cutoff of 35 years. Patients with a high white blood cell count (more than 30 × 109/l for B lineage and more than 100 × 109/l for T lineage) and/or with t(4;11) or t(1;19) were classified as a high-risk group, and all other patients were classified as standard-risk group. All TPs, based on the JALSG studies and the JSHCT data, were recalculated using the data of patients in each subgroup (Table 3). Other TPs and utilities were the same as those for the overall patient analyses.

Table 3 Transition probabilities of subgroups

Sensitivity analyses

To evaluate the robustness of the decision model, we performed one-way sensitivity analyses for all TPs, in which the decision tree was recalculated by varying each TP value in its plausible range, and confirmed whether the decision of the baseline analyses changed. In the analyses that included adjustments for QOL, the utility for being alive with active GVHD at 10 years was also subjected to a one-way sensitivity analysis.

We also performed a probabilistic sensitivity analysis using Monte Carlo simulation in which the uncertainties of all TPs were considered simultaneously.19 The distribution of the random variables for each TP was determined to follow a normal distribution, with 95% of the random variables included in the plausible range. Following 1000 simulations based on the decision tree, the mean and s.d. of the expected value for each decision were calculated.

Results

Baseline analysis

The baseline analysis in the whole population without adjusting for QOL revealed an expected 10-year survival of 48.3% for the decision to perform allogeneic HSCT in first remission, which was better than that of 32.6% for the decision to continue chemotherapy. The decision to perform allogeneic HSCT continued to be superior even after adjusting for QOL (44.9% for HSCT vs 31.7% for chemotherapy, Table 4).

Table 4 Expected 10-year survival probabilities with and without adjusting for QOL

Sensitivity analysis

First, we performed one-way sensitivity analyses for all TPs in the decision model without adjusting for QOL. A better expected survival for the decision to perform HSCT was consistently demonstrated in all TPs within the plausible ranges. In the probabilistic sensitivity analysis, the mean value and s.d. of the expected survival probability for HSCT were 48.3 and 2.6%, and those for chemotherapy were 32.7 and 3.4%, respectively.

Next, we performed one-way sensitivity analyses for all TPs and for the utility for being alive with active GVHD at 10 years in the decision model adjusted for QOL. Even in these analyses, the result of the baseline analysis did not reverse in all TPs. In addition, a higher expected survival probability for HSCT was retained, assuming that the utility for being alive with active GVHD ranged between 0 and 98 (Figure 2a). In the probabilistic sensitivity analysis, the mean value and s.d. of the expected survival probability for HSCT were 44.8 and 2.6%, and those for chemotherapy were 31.8 and 3.4%, respectively.

Figure 2
figure2

One-way sensitivity analysis for the utility for being alive with active GVHD. We performed one-way sensitivity analyses for the utility for being alive with active GVHD in the model, with adjustment for QOL. The superiority of allogeneic HSCT compared with chemotherapy (CTx) was consistently observed even with a wide plausible range of the utility in the whole population (a) and all subgroups (be).

Subgroup analyses

In subgroup analyses, both with and without adjustment for QOL, a better expected survival probability for HSCT was consistently observed in all subgroups (Table 4).

We also performed one-way sensitivity analyses in all subgroups. In the decision model without adjusting for QOL, varying each TP value in its plausible range did not affect the results of baseline analyses in all subgroups, except for higher-aged patients. In higher-aged patients, the result of the baseline analysis reversed only if the probability of LFS at 10 years following chemotherapy in first remission was more than 0.334. Even in the decision model with adjustment for QOL, varying each TP value did not affect the result of the baseline analyses in all subgroups, except for higher-aged patients. In higher-aged patients, the result reversed in favor of chemotherapy if the probability of LFS at 10 years without relapse following chemotherapy was more than 0.307 (Figure 3a) or the probability of overall survival at 10 years following HSCT in first remission was less than 0.413 (Figure 3b). On the other hand, non-relapse mortality at 10 years following chemotherapy did not affect the result. We also performed one-way sensitivity analyses for the utility of being alive with active GVHD ranging between 0 and 98. A higher expected survival probability for HSCT was retained in all subgroups (Figures 2b–e).

Figure 3
figure3

One-way sensitivity analysis in higher-aged patients. We performed one-way sensitivity analyses for all TPs in the decision model both with and without adjustment for QOL. In higher-aged patients, the result reversed if the probability of LFS at 10 years without relapse following chemotherapy (CTx) was more than 0.307 (a), or the probability of overall survival at 10 years following allogeneic HSCT in first complete remission (CR1) was less than 0.413 (b).

Discussion

Decision analysis is a statistical technique that aids the clinical decision-making process under uncertainty. This approach has also been used in situations in which a well-designed clinical trial is practically difficult to perform. In the present case, a prospective trial to randomly assign patients with ALL in first remission who have an HLA-matched sibling to undergo allogeneic HSCT or chemotherapy alone is practically difficult. Therefore, we tried to determine the optimal strategy in this clinical situation by using a decision analysis. We chose the 10-year survival probability as the primary outcome measure rather than life expectancy, as the cure rate, rather than how long they can survive, is important for young patients with acute leukemia to make a decision whether they should undergo allogeneic HSCT in first remission. When we performed the decision analysis using the 5-year survival probability as the primary outcome measure, however, the findings in this study did not change, as the survival curve nearly reaches a plateau after 5 years. Further, we adjusted for QOL by considering the presence or absence of persisting symptoms associated with chronic GVHD rather than by calculating quality-adjusted life years, as most patients who choose allogeneic HSCT may tolerate transiently impaired QOL and attach much importance to long-term QOL. Under these conditions, we decided to use a simple decision analysis model rather than a Markov model that allows probabilities and utilities to change with time, as the benefit of using a Markov model is limited in this situation. In addition, a large number of patients are required for the Markov model to define appropriate TPs that change with time. In this study, the number of patients was limited because we used data from the JALSG prospective studies to avoid biases of using retrospective data. We used the database of the JSHCT to calculate TPs in patients who underwent HSCT, because the number of patients who underwent HSCT was further limited in the JALSG prospective studies. However, outcomes after allogeneic HSCT in first remission were not significantly different among the JALSG prospective studies and the JSHCT database (data not shown).

In our baseline analysis both with and without adjustment for QOL, the superiority of HSCT in first remission was demonstrated in the whole population and also in all subgroups. In the whole population, probabilistic sensitivity analysis using a Monte Carlo simulation also supported this result. However, in one-way sensitivity analyses, we should note that the decision model was sensitive to the probability of LFS following chemotherapy in first remission in higher-aged patients (Figure 3a). The adaptation of intensified chemotherapy according to pediatric regimens has led to improved outcomes in adolescents and young adults,20 and even in older patients in recent trials,21 and therefore this decision might change in the future.

The risk stratification we used in subgroup analyses was different from that used in the MRC/ECOG study.8 Therefore, we added subgroup analyses according to the risk stratification used in the MRC/ECOG study. In analyses without QOL adjustments, allogeneic HSCT in first remission was superior both in standard-risk (56.6 vs 36.2%) and high-risk (42.4 vs 33.3%) patients. With QOL adjustments, the similar tendency was observed in both standard-risk (52.6 vs 35.1%) and high-risk (39.4 vs 32.6%) patients. These findings were consistent with those based on our original risk stratification. In addition, we further subdivided patients into four different age categories: 15–25, 26–35, 36–45 and 46–54 years. The superiority of the decision to perform allogeneic HSCT in first remission was conserved in all age categories (data not shown).

A possible concern in this study was the long median duration of 152 days from achieving complete remission to allogeneic HSCT. In the current decision model, this long duration precluded allogeneic HSCT in first remission in about 20% of patients in the allogeneic HSCT branch (mainly because of early relapse), and thereby impaired the expected probability of survival for the decision to undergo allogeneic HSCT. In reality, a meta-regression analysis by Yanada et al.3 revealed that compliance with allogeneic HSCT was significantly and positively correlated with survival.3 Another fact to be noted is the low incidence of severe GVHD in Japanese patients, which might have favorably affected the decision to perform HSCT.22 Therefore, the current conclusion should be cautiously applied to Western patients.

The QOL after HSCT is most strongly affected by the status of chronic GVHD, but it is difficult to determine the appropriate utility for each status of GVHD. Therefore, we performed a one-way sensitivity analysis with a wide plausible range of the utility for being alive with active GVHD. In our decision model, the superiority of HSCT was consistently observed regardless of the utility for being alive with active GVHD both in the whole population and in all subgroups (Figure 2).

In conclusion, to improve the long-term probability of survival, allogeneic HSCT in first remission is recommended for all adult patients with Ph-negative ALL who have an HLA-matched sibling. Even when we considered QOL, the superiority of HSCT was confirmed in the whole population and in all subgroups. However, this result might change by the adaptation of intensified chemotherapy, especially in higher-aged patients.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all staff of the JALSG centers and the JSHCT centers for providing excellent patient care and reporting clinical data.

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Correspondence to Y Kanda.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Kako, S., Morita, S., Sakamaki, H. et al. A decision analysis of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in adult patients with Philadelphia chromosome-negative acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first remission who have an HLA-matched sibling donor. Leukemia 25, 259–265 (2011) doi:10.1038/leu.2010.260

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Keywords

  • decision analysis
  • acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
  • HLA-matched sibling donor
  • first remission

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