Secondary cytogenetic abnormalities at diagnosis of Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) have been associated with an inferior outcome in reported series of largely chemotherapy-treated patients. To date, no study has specifically focused on the prognostic significance of secondary karyotypic abnormalities, detected at the time of diagnosis, in interferon (IFN)-alpha treated patients. We compared the outcome of 29 newly diagnosed Ph+ CML patients with additional abnormalities to that of 234 sole Ph+ patients, treated on CALGB protocols with IFN-alpha alone or together with IFN-gamma or low-dose cytarabine. Complete and partial cytogenetic responses were achieved in 20 and 19% of sole Ph+ patients, compared to 23 and 18%, respectively, of patients with additional abnormalities (P=1.00). None of 4 patients with 'high-risk' secondary abnormalities [+8, +Ph and i(17)(q10)], for whom follow-up cytogenetic samples were available, achieved a cytogenetic response. With a median follow-up of 11.3 years, the median overall survival (OS) was 6.0 years for sole Ph+ patients compared to 7.5 years for patients with additional abnormalities (P=0.70), with corresponding 8-year OS of 36 and 38%, respectively. On multivariable analysis, only age (P<0.001) and white blood cell count (P=0.02) were associated with outcome. We conclude that, with the possible exception of +8, +Ph and i(17)(q10), additional chromosomal abnormalities at diagnosis are not associated with inferior outcome in Ph+ CML patients treated with IFN-alpha-based therapy.