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Ann Intern Med. 1998 Oct 1;129(7):559-66.

Infections in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia treated with fludarabine.

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University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston 77030, USA.



Fludarabine, a purine analogue with activity in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, is usually well tolerated. Although serious infections after fludarabine therapy have been described, a systematic analysis of the risk factors for such infections in chronic lymphocytic leukemia is lacking.


To determine the risk factors for major infection in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia treated with fludarabine.


Retrospective review of medical records.


Cancer center.


402 patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia not previously treated or treated with chlorambucil (with or without prednisone) who received fludarabine (30 mg/m2 of body surface area per day for 5 days) with or without prednisone at 4-week intervals.


Infections occurred more often in previously treated (144 of 248 [58%]) than in previously untreated (53 of 154 [34%]) patients (P < 0.001). Listeriosis or pneumocystosis occurred in 12 of 170 (7%) previously treated patients receiving fludarabine plus prednisone, 0 of 78 previously treated patients receiving fludarabine alone, and 2 of 154 (1%) previously untreated patients receiving fludarabine plus prednisone (P = 0.003). Univariate analysis identified previous chemotherapy, advanced disease, failure to respond to fludarabine, elevated serum beta2-microglobulin level (P < 0.001), low serum albumin level (P = 0.024), elevated serum creatinine concentration (P = 0.008), and low granulocyte count (P = 0.003) as risk factors for infection. Multivariate analysis identified Rai stage III or IV (odds ratio, 1.98 [95% CI, 1.17 to 3.94]), previous treatment (odds ratio, 2.24 [CI, 1.43 to 3.51]), and elevated serum creatinine concentration (odds ratio, 1.98 [CI, 1.09 to 3.67]) as statistically significant independent risk factors for major infection. A baseline granulocyte count of more than 1000 cells/microL was protective (odds ratio, 0.54 [CI, 0.29 to 0.99]). Five (26%) of 19 patients with a CD4 count less than 50 cells/mL developed cutaneous zoster compared with 9 (6%) of 139 patients with a CD4 count greater than 50 cells/mL (P = 0.01).


Fludarabine used in previously treated patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia may be associated with infections involving T-cell dysfunction, such as listeriosis, pneumocystosis, mycobacterial infections, and opportunistic fungal and viral infections. Prophylaxis or presumptive therapy should be initiated in the appropriate setting.

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