To assess the effectiveness, safety and cost-effectiveness of extracorporeal photophoresis (ECP) for the treatment of refractory erythrodermic cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) and refractory chronic graft versus host disease (cGvHD).
Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma
Cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a general name for a group of skin affecting disorders caused by malignant white blood cells (T lymphocytes). Cutaneous T cell lymphoma is relatively uncommon and represents slightly more than 2% of all lymphomas in the United States. The most frequently diagnosed form of CTCL is mycosis fungoides (MF) and its leukemic variant Sezary syndrome (SS). The relative frequency and disease-specific 5-year survival of 1,905 primary cutaneous lymphomas classified according to the World Health Organization-European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (WHO-EORTC) classification (Appendix 1). Mycosis fungoides had a frequency of 44% and a disease specific 5-year survival of 88%. Sezary syndrome had a frequency of 3% and a disease specific 5-year survival of 24%.
Cutaneous T cell lymphoma has an annual incidence of approximately 0.4 per 100,000 and it mainly occurs in the 5th to 6th decade of life, with a male/female ratio of 2:1. Mycosis fungoides is an indolent lymphoma with patients often having several years of eczematous or dermatitic skin lesions before the diagnosis is finally established. Mycosis fungoides commonly presents as chronic eczematous patches or plaques and can remain stable for many years. Early in the disease biopsies are often difficult to interpret and the diagnosis may only become apparent by observing the patient over time.
The clinical course of MF is unpredictable. Most patients will live normal lives and experience skin symptoms without serious complications. Approximately 10% of MF patients will experience progressive disease involving lymph nodes, peripheral blood, bone marrow and visceral organs. A particular syndrome in these patients involves erythroderma (intense and usually widespread reddening of the skin from dilation of blood vessels, often preceding or associated with exfoliation), and circulating tumour cells. This is known as SS. It has been estimated that approximately 5-10% of CTCL patients have SS. Patients with SS have a median survival of approximately 30 months.
Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease
Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) is a treatment used for a variety of malignant and nonmalignant disease of the bone marrow and immune system. The procedure is often associated with serious immunological complications, particularly graft versus host disease (GvHD). A chronic form of GvHD (cGvHD) afflicts many allogeneic HCT recipients, which results in dysfunction of numerous organ systems or even a profound state of immunodeficiency. Chronic GVHD is the most frequent cause of poor long-term outcome and quality of life after allogeneic HCT. The syndrome typically develops several months after transplantation, when the patient may no longer be under the direct care of the transplant team.
Approximately 50% of patients with cGvHD have limited disease and a good prognosis. Of the patients with extensive disease, approximately 60% will respond to treatment and eventually be able to discontinue immunosuppressive therapy. The remaining patients will develop opportunistic infection, or require prolonged treatment with immunosuppressive agents.
Chronic GvHD occurs in at least 30% to 50% of recipients of transplants from human leukocyte antigen matched siblings and at least 60% to 70% of recipients of transplants from unrelated donors. Risk factors include older age of patient or donor, higher degree of histoincompatibility, unrelated versus related donor, use of hematopoietic cells obtained from the blood rather than the marrow, and previous acute GvHD. Bhushan and Collins estimated that the incidence of severe cGvHD has probably increased in recent years because of the use of more unrelated transplants, donor leukocyte infusions, nonmyeloablative transplants and stem cells obtained from the blood rather than the marrow. The syndrome typically occurs 4 to 7 months after transplantation but may begin as early as 2 months or as late as 2 or more years after transplantation. Chronic GvHD may occur by itself, evolve from acute GvHD, or occur after resolution of acute GvHD.
The onset of the syndrome may be abrupt but is frequently insidious with manifestations evolving gradually for several weeks. The extent of involvement varies significantly from mild involvement limited to a few patches of skin to severe involvement of numerous organ systems and profound immunodeficiency. The most commonly involved tissues are the skin, liver, mouth, and eyes. Patients with limited disease have localized skin involvement, evidence of liver dysfunction, or both, whereas those with more involvement of the skin or involvement of other organs have extensive disease.
Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma
The optimal management of MF is undetermined because of its low prevalence, and its highly variable natural history, with frequent spontaneous remissions and exacerbations and often prolonged survival.
Nonaggressive approaches to therapy are usually warranted with treatment aimed at improving symptoms and physical appearance while limiting toxicity. Given that multiple skin sites are usually involved, the initial treatment choices are usually topical or intralesional corticosteroids or phototherapy using psoralen (a compound found in plants which make the skin temporarily sensitive to ultraviolet A) (PUVA). PUVA is not curative and its influence on disease progression remains uncertain. Repeated courses are usually required which may lead to an increased risk of both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. For thicker plaques, particularly if localized, radiotherapy with superficial electrons is an option.
“Second line” therapy for early stage disease is often topical chemotherapy, radiotherapy or total skin electron beam radiation (TSEB).
Treatment of advanced stage (IIB-IV) MF usually consists of topical or systemic therapy in refractory or rapidly progressive SS.
Bone marrow transplantation and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation have been used to treat many malignant hematologic disorders (e.g., leukemias) that are refractory to conventional treatment. Reports on the use of these procedures for the treatment of CTCL are limited and mostly consist of case reports or small case series.
Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease
Patients who develop cGvHD require reinstitution of immunosuppressive medication (if already discontinued) or an increase in dosage and possibly addition of other agents. The current literature regarding cGvHD therapy is less than optimal and many recommendations about therapy are based on common practices that await definitive testing. Patients with disease that is extensive by definition but is indolent in clinical appearance may respond to prednisone. However, patients with more aggressive disease are treated with higher doses of corticosteroids and/or cyclosporine.
Numerous salvage therapies have been considered in patients with refractory cGvHD, including ECP. Due to uncertainty around salvage therapies, Bhushan and Collins suggested that ideally, patients with refractory cGvHD should be entered into clinical trials.
Two Ontario expert consultants jointly estimated that there may be approximately 30 new erythrodermic treatment resistant CTCL patients and 30 new treatment resistant cGvHD patients per year who are unresponsive to other forms of therapy and may be candidates for ECP.
Extracorporeal photopheresis is a procedure that was initially developed as a treatment for CTCL, particularly SS.
Extracorporeal photopheresis is an immunomodulatory technique based on pheresis of light sensitive cells. Whole blood is removed from patients followed by pheresis. Lymphocytes are separated by centrifugation to create a concentrated layer of white blood cells. The lymphocyte layer is treated with methoxsalen (a drug that sensitizes the lymphocytes to light) and exposed to UVA, following which the lymphocytes are returned to the patient. Red blood cells and plasma are returned to the patient between each cycle.
Photosensitization is achieved by administering methoxsalen to the patient orally 2 hours before the procedure, or by injecting methoxsalen directly ino the leucocyte rich fraction. The latter approach avoids potential side effects such as nausea, and provides a more consistent drug level within the machine.
In general, from the time the intravenous line is inserted until the white blood cells are returned to the patient takes approximately 2.5-3.5 hours.
For CTCL, the treatment schedule is generally 2 consecutive days every 4 weeks for a median of 6 months. For cGvHD, an expert in the field estimated that the treatment schedule would be 3 times a week for the 1st month, then 2 consecutive days every 2 weeks after that (i.e., 4 treatments a month) for a median of 6 to 9 months.
The UVAR XTS Photopheresis System is licensed by Health Canada as a Class 3 medical device (license # 7703) for the “palliative treatment of skin manifestations of CTCL.” It is not licensed for the treatment of cGvHD.
UVADEX (sterile solution methoxsalen) is not licensed by Health Canada, but can be used in Canada via the Special Access Program. (Personal communication, Therakos, February 16, 2006)
According to the manufacturer, the UVAR XTS photopheresis system licensed by Health Canada can also be used with oral methoxsalen. (Personal communication, Therakos, February 16, 2006) However, oral methoxsalen is associated with side effects, must be taken by the patient in advance of ECP, and has variable absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.
According to Health Canada, UVADEX is not approved for use in Canada. In addition, a review of the Product Monographs of the methoxsalen products that have been approved in Canada showed that none of them have been approved for oral administration in combination with the UVAR XTS photophoresis system for “the palliative treatment of the skin manifestations of cutaneous T-cell Lymphoma”.
In the United States, the UVAR XTS Photopheresis System is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for “use in the ultraviolet-A (UVA) irradiation in the presence of the photoactive drug methoxsalen of extracorporeally circulating leukocyte-enriched blood in the palliative treatment of the skin manifestations of CTCL in persons who have not been responsive to other therapy.”
UVADEX is approved by the FDA for use in conjunction with UVR XTS photopheresis system for “use in the ultraviolet-A (UVA) irradiation in the presence of the photoactive drug methoxsalen of extracorporeally circulating leukocyte-enriched blood in the palliative treatment of the skin manifestations of CTCL in persons who have not been responsive to other therapy.”
The use of the UVAR XTS photopheresis system or UVADEX for cGvHD is an off-label use of a FDA approved device/drug.
Summary of Findings
The quality of the trials was examined.
As stated by the GRADE Working Group, the following definitions were used in grading the quality of the evidence.
Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma
Overall, there is low-quality evidence that ECP improves response rates and survival in patients with refractory erythrodermic CTCL (Table 1).
Limitations in the literature related to ECP for the treatment of refractory erythrodermic CTCL include the following:
Different treatment regimens.
Variety of forms of CTCL (and not necessarily treatment resistant) - MF, erythrodermic MF, SS.
SS with peripheral blood involvement → role of T cell clonality reporting?
Case series (1 small crossover RCT with several limitations)
Small sample sizes.
Response criteria not clearly defined/consistent.
Unclear how concomitant therapy contributed to responses.
Variation in definitions of concomitant therapy
Comparison to historical controls.
Some patients were excluded from analysis because of progression of disease, toxicity and other reasons.
Quality of life not reported as an outcome of interest.
The reported CR range is ~ 16% to 23% and the overall reported CR/PR range is ~ 33% to 80%.
The wide range in reported responses to ECP appears to be due to the variability of the patients treated and the way in which the data were presented and analyzed.
Many patients, in mostly retrospective case series, were concurrently on other therapies and were not assessed for comparability of diagnosis or disease stage (MF versus SS; erythrodermic versus not erythrodermic). Blood involvement in patients receiving ECP (e.g., T cell clonality) was not consistently reported, especially in earlier studies. The definitions of partial and complete response also are not standardized or consistent between studies.
Quality of life was reported in one study; however, the scale was developed by the authors and is not a standard validated scale.
Adverse events associated with ECP appear to be uncommon and most involve catheter related infections and hypotension caused by volume depletion.
GRADE Quality of Studies – Extracorporeal Photopheresis for Refractory Erythrodermic Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma
Chronic Graft-Versus-Host Disease
Overall, there is low-quality evidence that ECP improves response rates and survival in patients with refractory cGvHD (Table 2).
Patients in the studies had stem cell transplants due to a variety of hematological disorders (e.g., leukemias, aplastic anemia, thalassemia major, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
In 2001, The Blue Cross Blue Shield Technology Evaluation Centre concluded that ECP meets the TEC criteria as treatment of cGvHD that is refractory to established therapy.
The Catalan health technology assessment (also published in 2001) concluded that ECP is a new but experimental therapeutic alternative for the treatment of the erythrodermal phase of CTCL and cGvHD in allogenic HPTC and that this therapy should be evaluated in the framework of a RCT.
Quality of life (Lansky/Karnofsky play performance score) was reported in 1 study.
The patients in the studies were all refractory to steroids and other immunosuppressive agents, and these drugs were frequently continued concomitantly with ECP.
Criteria for assessment of organ improvement in cGvHD are variable, but PR was typically defined as >50% improvement from baseline parameters and CR as complete resolution of organ involvement.
Followup was variable and incomplete among the studies.
GRADE Quality of Studies – ECP for Refractory cGvHD
As per the GRADE Working Group, overall recommendations consider 4 main factors.
The tradeoffs, taking into account the estimated size of the effect for the main outcome, the confidence limits around those estimates and the relative value placed on the outcome.
The quality of the evidence (Tables 1 and 2).
Translation of the evidence into practice in a specific setting, taking into consideration important factors that could be expected to modify the size of the expected effects such as proximity to a hospital or availability of necessary expertise.
Uncertainty about the baseline risk for the population of interest.
The GRADE Working Group also recommends that incremental costs of healthcare alternatives should be considered explicitly alongside the expected health benefits and harms. Recommendations rely on judgments about the value of the incremental health benefits in relation to the incremental costs. The last column in Table 3 is the overall trade-off between benefits and harms and incorporates any risk/uncertainty.
For refractory erythrodermic CTCL, the overall GRADE and strength of the recommendation is “weak” – the quality of the evidence is “low” (uncertainties due to methodological limitations in the study design in terms of study quality and directness), and the corresponding risk/uncertainty is increased due to an annual budget impact of approximately $1.5M Cdn (based on 30 patients) while the cost-effectiveness of ECP is unknown and difficult to estimate considering that there are no high quality studies of effectiveness. The device is licensed by Health Canada, but the sterile solution of methoxsalen is not licensed.
With an annual budget impact of $1.5 M Cdn (based on 30 patients), and the current expenditure is $1.3M Cdn (for out of country for 7 patients), the potential cost savings based on 30 patients with refractory erythrodermic CTCL is about $3.8 M Cdn (annual).
For refractory cGvHD, the overall GRADE and strength of the recommendation is “weak” – the quality of the evidence is “low” (uncertainties due to methodological limitations in the study design in terms of study quality and directness), and the corresponding risk/uncertainty is increased due to a budget impact of approximately $1.5M Cdn while the cost-effectiveness of ECP is unknown and difficult to estimate considering that there are no high quality studies of effectiveness. Both the device and sterile solution are not licensed by Health Canada for the treatment of cGvHD.
If all the ECP procedures for patients with refractory erythrodermic CTCL and refractory cGvHD were performed in Ontario, the annual budget impact would be approximately $3M Cdn.
Overall GRADE and Strength of Recommendation (Including Uncertainty)