Iron overload (IO) is a known adverse prognostic factor in patients who undergo allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for thalassemia and appears to play a similar role in patients with other hematologic disorders. The estimation of IO is based primarily on serum ferritin level; however, many confounding factors can result in ferritin overestimation, especially in HSCT recipients. The aim of the present study was to quantify IO after HSCT using a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID), and to evaluate the impact of IO on hepatic function and infections. In addition, the feasibility of iron depletion was investigated. A total of 102 consecutive allogeneic HSCT recipients admitted to our outpatient department between December 2005, and December 2007, were analyzed. Primary diagnosis included acute leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome in 61% of cases. Assessment of IO after HSCT included serum ferritin; in those with hyperferritinemia (ferritin > 1000 ng/mL), liver iron concentration (LIC) was evaluated by SQUID magnetic susceptometry. Iron removal therapy was offered to patients with moderate IO (LIC 1000-2000 μg Fe/g wet weight [ww]) or severe IO (LIC >2000 μg Fe/g ww). Fifty-seven patients had a ferritin level 1000 ng/mL. Out of 42 patients evaluated by SQUID, 29 had moderate to severe IO (median LIC value, 1493 μg Fe/g ww [range, 1030-3253]). In a multivariate analysis, a significant correlation was found between a ferritin level >1000 ng/mL and the presence of at least one abnormal liver function test (LFT) ORo = 6.8; 95% CI = 2.2-20.6). In addition, the rate of proven/probable invasive fungal disease was significantly higher in the patients with hyperferritinemia (13% vs 0%; P = .006). Nineteen of the 24 patients considered eligible for iron-depletion therapy underwent regular phlebotomy; 13 completed the program in a median of 287 days (range, 92-779 days), reaching the target of a ferritin level <500 ng/mL; LIC was significantly reduced (median, 1419 μg Fe/g ww to 625 μg Fe/g ww; P <.001) in 8 of the 9 patients who were revaluated by SQUID at the end of the iron-depletion program. In conclusion, the measurement of LIC obtained by SQUID documented the presence of moderate/severe IO in 69% of the patients with a high ferritin level. Our data showed that in HSCT recipients, high ferritin level is an independent risk factor for abnormal LFTs, and IO may be considered a potential risk factor for fungal infections. A phlebotomy program may be feasible in two-thirds of the patients who might benefit from iron depletion.
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