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Open Access Research article

Clinical symptoms and chemotherapy completion in elderly patients with newly diagnosed acute leukemia: a retrospective comparison study with a younger cohort

Rong Hu1, Yong Wu2, Xiaoying Jiang1*, Wenteng Zhang1 and Le Xu2

Author Affiliations

1 Nursing School of Fujian Medical University. 1 Xueyuan Road, Shangjie Town, Minhou County, Fuzhou, Fujian 350108, P.R. China

2 Union Hospital Affiliated with Fujian Medical University. 29 Xinquan Road, Fuzhou 350001, Fujian, P.R. China

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:224  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-224

Published: 7 June 2011



Cancer affects older adults disproportionately. The disease is often difficult to diagnose and treat due to co-morbidities and performance status, and patients tend to discontinue chemotherapy prematurely. There are no systemic studies of the reasons and factors that create a higher withdrawal rate in older acute leukemia patients. This study tried to understand the initial characteristics, blood counts and bone marrow measurements in older acute leukemia patients by comparing them with a younger group to provide information and assistance in early clinical diagnosis, treatment and reasons for treatment withdrawal.


Using retrospective medical record reviews, we examined clinical characteristics and chemotherapy completion status in the patients of two groups (age ≥ 60, n = 183 and age <60, n = 183) who were diagnosed with acute leukemia for the first time and were hospitalized in Union Hospital Affiliated with Fujian Medical University from 2004 to 2008.


There were no statistical differences in initial presenting symptoms of fatigue (67.2% vs. 57.9%, P>0.05) and pallor (53% vs. 59.6%, P>0.05) between the two groups, but older patients demonstrated more underlying diseases including lung infections (25.7%, P = <0.001), cardiovascular disease (4.4%, P = 0.007), and hypertension (20.8%, P =< 0.001). The complete remission rate after chemotherapy (1 to 2 courses) was 49.5% in the older group and 66.7% in the younger group (χ2 = 6.202, P = 0.013). The percentage of patients age 60 and older who prematurely discontinued chemotherapy (50.3%), mainly due to the influences of traditional Chinese concept of critical illness, financial difficulties, and intolerance to adverse reactions to chemotherapy, was significantly higher than that of younger patients (37.7%) (χ2 = 5.866, P = 0.015).


A comprehensive approach to diagnosis, treatment selection, and toxicity management, and implementing strategies to enhance treatment compliance may improve outcomes in older adults with acute leukemia.

Elderly; Acute leukemia; Treatment compliance; Remission