Acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) increases post-transplant mortality and morbidity, but exerts a potent graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect. To clarify the impact of GVHD on outcome after transplant in aggressive diseases, patients with acute myeloid or lymphoblastic leukemia (AML, n = 366 or ALL, n = 255) in nonremission states, or chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML, n = 180) in accelerated phase (AP) or blastic crisis (BC), who received allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) from a related donor between 1991 and 2000, were analyzed. Significant improvement in overall and disease-free survival (DFS) was detected with grade I acute GVHD in AML (P = 0.0002 for overall survival and 0.0009 for DFS, respectively) and in CML (P = 0.0256 and 0.0366, respectively), while the trend towards improved survival was observed in ALL. Relapse rate was lower in grade I acute GVHD than in grade II in all three diseases, suggesting that treatment for grade II GVHD may compromise the GVL effect associated with GVHD. Chronic GVHD was found to suppress relapse in CML and ALL, but not in AML, although no improvement in survival was observed in any disease category. Our results suggest that treatment for grade II acute GVHD may need to be attenuated in transplant for refractory leukemias.
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