The effect of GVHD on transplant outcomes after unrelated cord blood transplantation (UCBT) is not yet fully understood. Pediatric patients aged 0–15 years with acute leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome who underwent their first UCBT (n = 740) were selected from the Japanese registry. Fifty percent of the patients received a UCB unit containing more than 5.0 × 107/kg total nucleated cells. The occurrence of grade III–IV acute GVHD was associated with a higher risk of non-relapse mortality (NRM, hazard ratio [HR] 4.07, P < 0.001) compared with no acute GVHD. Grade I–II acute GVHD was not associated with NRM. The occurrence of grade I–II or grade III–IV acute GVHD was not associated with a relapse risk. These findings showed that grade I–II acute GVHD carried no survival benefit and grade III–IV acute GVHD had an adverse effect (HR 1.68, P = 0.007). The occurrence of limited chronic GVHD was associated with a low risk of overall mortality (HR 0.60, P = 0.045). Severe acute GVHD should be prevented because of its association with high overall mortality and NRM in pediatric single UCBT. Mild acute GVHD provides no overall benefit. Mild chronic GVHD may be beneficial for survival.
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