Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is defined as ≥20% myeloblasts, representing a change from original guidelines where ≤30% blasts were considered as myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), and 20-29% blasts classified as refractory anemia with excess blasts in transformation (RAEB-T). Whether the diagnostic bone marrow blast percentage has current value with regards to patient prognostication or identification of optimal treatment strategies is unclear. We retrospectively studied 1652 treatment-naïve adults with MDS or AML and ≥10% blasts from January 2000 to April 2014. Patients with 20-29% blasts were more similar to MDS patients in terms of advanced age, increased frequency of poor-risk cytogenetics, lower WBC count, and less frequent NPM1 and FLT3-ITD mutations. Median overall survival of MDS and RAEB-T were similar, 16.0 and 16.0 months, compared to 13.5 months for AML with ≥30% blasts (P=0.045). Multivariate analysis showed inferior survival with increased age (HR 1.81 age 60-69, HR 2.68 age ≥70, P<0.0005); poor-risk cytogenetics (HR 2.25, P<0.0005); therapy-related disease (HR 1.44, P<0.0005); and markers of proliferative disease including WBC ≥25 × 109/L (HR 1.35, P = 0.0003), elevated LDH count (HR 1.24, P=0.0015), and peripheral blasts (HR 1.25, P=0.004). Among younger patients (≤60 years), intensive AML-type therapy resulted in similar outcomes regardless of blast percentage, suggesting this to be optimal therapy in this context. Among older patients (≥70 years), patients with 20-29% blasts had similar outcomes to patients with <20% blasts, and better than those with ≥30% blasts. In addition, among older patients, epigenetic therapy provided at least equivalent outcome to intensive chemotherapy.
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