Hydroxyurea (hydroxycarbamide) for sickle cell disease

Sickle Cell Unit, Caribbean Institute for Health Research, University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. Department of Health Data Science, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.

The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. 2022;9(9):Cd002202
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PICO Summary

Population

Adults and children with sickle cell disease (9 studies, n= 1,104).

Intervention

Hydroxyurea.

Comparison

Standard therapy. Placebo.

Outcome

Hydroxyurea vs. placebo: Hydroxyurea probably improved pain alteration and life-threatening illness, but there was no difference in death rates. Hydroxyurea may improve measures of raising foetal haemoglobin (HbF) and probably decreased neutrophil counts. There were no consistent differences in terms of quality of life and adverse events. There were fewer occurrences of acute chest syndrome and blood transfusions in the hydroxyurea groups. Hydroxyurea and phlebotomy vs. transfusion and chelation: There were no consistent differences in terms of pain alteration, death or adverse events or life-threatening illness. Hydroxyurea with phlebotomy probably increased HbF and decreased neutrophil counts, but there were more occurrences of acute chest syndrome and infections. Hydroxyurea vs. observation: There were no differences in life-threatening illness, death or adverse events. The authors were uncertain if hydroxyurea improved HbF or decreased neutrophil counts. Treatment regimens with and without hydroxyurea: There were no differences in death rates, adverse events or neutrophil levels. The authors were uncertain if hydroxyurea improved HbF.
Abstract
BACKGROUND Sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the most common inherited diseases worldwide. It is associated with lifelong morbidity and a reduced life expectancy. Hydroxyurea (hydroxycarbamide), an oral chemotherapeutic drug, ameliorates some of the clinical problems of SCD, in particular that of pain, by raising foetal haemoglobin (HbF). This is an update of a previously published Cochrane Review. OBJECTIVES The aims of this review are to determine through a review of randomised or quasi-randomised studies whether the use of hydroxyurea in people with SCD alters the pattern of acute events, including pain; prevents, delays or reverses organ dysfunction; alters mortality and quality of life; or is associated with adverse effects. In addition, we hoped to assess whether the response to hydroxyurea in SCD varies with the type of SCD, age of the individual, duration and dose of treatment, and healthcare setting. SEARCH METHODS We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Haemoglobinopathies Register, comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. We also searched online trial registries. The date of the most recent search was 17 February 2022. SELECTION CRITERIA Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials (RCTs and quasi-RCTs), of one month or longer, comparing hydroxyurea with placebo or standard therapy in people with SCD. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS Authors independently assessed studies for inclusion, carried out data extraction, assessed the risk of bias and assessed the quality of the evidence using GRADE. MAIN RESULTS We included nine RCTs recruiting 1104 adults and children with SCD (haemoglobin SS (HbSS), haemoglobin SC (HbSC) or haemoglobin Sβºthalassaemia (HbSβºthal) genotypes). Studies lasted from six to 30 months. We judged the quality of the evidence for the first two comparisons below as moderate to low as the studies contributing to these comparisons were mostly large and well-designed (and at low risk of bias); however, the evidence was limited and imprecise for some outcomes such as quality of life, deaths during the studies and adverse events, and the results are applicable only to individuals with HbSS and HbSβºthal genotypes. We judged the quality of the evidence for the third and fourth comparisons to be very low due to the limited number of participants, the lack of statistical power (both studies were terminated early with approximately only 20% of their target sample size recruited) and the lack of applicability to all age groups and genotypes. Hydroxyurea versus placebo Five studies (784 adults and children with HbSS or HbSβºthal) compared hydroxyurea to placebo; four recruited individuals with only severe disease and one recruited individuals with all disease severities. Hydroxyurea probably improves pain alteration (using measures such as pain crisis frequency, duration, intensity, hospital admissions and opoid use) and life-threatening illness, but we found no difference in death rates (10 deaths occurred during the studies, but the rates did not differ by treatment group) (all moderate-quality evidence). Hydroxyurea may improve measures of HbF (low-quality evidence) and probably decreases neutrophil counts (moderate-quality evidence). There were no consistent differences in terms of quality of life and adverse events (including serious or life-threatening events) (low-quality evidence). There were fewer occurrences of acute chest syndrome and blood transfusions in the hydroxyurea groups. Hydroxyurea and phlebotomy versus transfusion and chelation Two studies (254 children with HbSS or HbSβºthal also with risk of primary or secondary stroke) contributed to this comparison. There were no consistent differences in terms of pain alteration, death or adverse events (low-quality evidence) or life-threatening illness (moderate-quality evidence). Hydroxyurea with phlebotomy probably increased HbF and decreased neutrophil counts (moderate-quality evidence), but there were more occurrences of acute chest syndrome and infections. Quality of life was not reported. In the primary prevention study, no strokes occurred in either treatment group but in the secondary prevention study, seven strokes occurred in the hydroxyurea and phlebotomy group (none in the transfusion and chelation group) and the study was terminated early. Hydroxyurea versus observation One study (22 children with HbSS or HbSβºthal also at risk of stoke) compared hydroxyurea to observation. Pain alteration and quality of life were not reported. There were no differences in life-threatening illness, death (no deaths reported in either group) or adverse events (very low-quality evidence). We are uncertain if hydroxyurea improves HbF or decreases neutrophil counts (very low-quality evidence). Treatment regimens with and without hydroxyurea One study (44 adults and children with HbSC) compared treatment regimens with and without hydroxyurea. Pain alteration, life-threatening illness and quality of life were not reported. There were no differences in death rates (no deaths reported in either group), adverse events or neutrophil levels (very low-quality evidence). We are uncertain if hydroxyurea improves HbF (very low-quality evidence). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS There is evidence to suggest that hydroxyurea may be effective in decreasing the frequency of pain episodes and other acute complications in adults and children with sickle cell anaemia of HbSS or HbSβºthal genotypes and in preventing life-threatening neurological events in those with sickle cell anaemia at risk of primary stroke by maintaining transcranial Doppler velocities. However, there is still insufficient evidence on the long-term benefits of hydroxyurea, particularly with regard to preventing chronic complications of SCD, or recommending a standard dose or dose escalation to maximum tolerated dose. There is also insufficient evidence about the long-term risks of hydroxyurea, including its effects on fertility and reproduction. Evidence is also limited on the effects of hydroxyurea on individuals with the HbSC genotype. Future studies should be designed to address such uncertainties.
Study details
Study Design : Systematic Review
Language : eng
Credits : Bibliographic data from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine