In a population of patients with hematologic malignancies who refuse blood product transfusions, high-dose chemotherapy (HDC) followed by autologous stem-cell transplantation (ASCT) in the absence of hematopoietic support was shown to be relatively safe, according to a report published online April 13 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

From May of 1996 to March of 2014 at Pennsylvania Hospital, 125 Jehovah’s Witness patients with lymphoma (n = 55), multiple myeloma (n = 68), or amyloidosis (n = 2) were treated with HDC and ASCT without transfusion through the use of basic blood management techniques. These techniques included priming pretransplantation hemoglobin with erythropoiesis stimulating agents and intravenous iron, limiting iatrogenic blood loss by minimizing phlebotomy, and controlling or preventing bleeding with hemostatic agents, according to Dr. Patricia Ford and her colleagues at the hospital.

They described the low incidence of bleeding even in the absence of prophylactic platelet transfusions, which, they noted, challenges current American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines that recommend transfusions at platelet counts less than 10 x 103/mcL. “The absence of major bleeding events observed at platelet counts greater than 5 x 103/mcL … suggests that a transfusion threshold trigger of 5 x 103/mcL may be appropriate in a select patient population,” they wrote (J. Clin. Oncol. 2015 April 13 [doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.57.9912]).

Among the patients treated with HDC and ASCT, those with multiple myeloma (n = 68) received melphalan 200 mg/m2,and those with lymphoma (n = 55) received carmustine 300mg/m2 day 1, cyclophosphamide 1,500 mg/m2 days 2-5, and VP16 700 mg/m2 per day on days 2-4.

At 100 days post transplantation, 115 patients (92%) were still alive. Treatment-related mortality due to anemia, sepsis, pancytopenia, or cardiac events occurred in six patients (4.8%).

Out of 18 bleeding episodes, 2 were major (one grade 4 hemorrhagic temporal infarction with retinal hemorrhages and one grade 3 GI bleed) and 16 were minor. There were no bleeding-associated fatalities.

Cardiac complications occurred at an unexpectedly high rate of 32% (40 patients) and resulted in three treatment-related deaths. Subsequently, all candidates older than 50 years or at risk for cardiac disease were required to undergo cardiac consultation prior to transplantation. Given the cardiovascular risk associated with this population, in addition to ECHO testing, stress testing in patients with suspected coronary artery disease is recommended, the researchers wrote.

On the basis of the observed low mortality and morbidity, Dr. Ford and her associates suggested that HDC followed by ASCT be offered to certain patients who refuse or who have medical contraindications to transfusions, stating that simple blood management strategies were an effective alternative in select patients.


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