Background Isotretinoin, for acne treatment, is associated with high rates of permanent remission. However, at recommended doses of 0.5-1.0 mg/kg/day for 5-6 months [average cumulative dose: 120-150 mg/kg], more than 20% of patients experience a relapse within two years that requires further medical management. Objective To examine outcomes of high-dose isotretinoin in a cohort with cystic acne, as well as measuring its impact on quality of life (QOL). Methods A single dermatologist, single institution investigation within an academic tertiary care center in Bronx, NY. Eighty patients with nodulocystic acne, maintained on oral isotretinoin at a dose of 1.3 mg/kg/day or greater, were studied from 2006-2009 while additionally participating in a QOL survey. Main outcome measures included documented events, acne clearance, presence of relapse, and quality of life parameters. Results The mean daily dose of isotretinoin was 1.6 mg/kg/day for an average time course of 178 days [cumulative dose: 290 mg/kg]. No side effects or laboratory abnormalities led to discontinuation of treatment. There were no psychiatric symptoms. One-hundred percent (100%) of patients were disease-free upon completion of treatment. During the three-year study period, 10 patients (12.5%) developed a relapse that required an additional course of isotretinoin. Analysis of QOL domains (self-perception, role-social, symptoms) revealed significant improvement following isotretinoin therapy (p = 0.0124, p = 0.0066, p = 0.0265, respectively). Conclusions Isotretinoin prescribed at 1.5 mg/kg/day or greater for 5-6 months [cumulative total dose of 290 mg/kg] is safe and effective compared to current standard dosing practices. We propose the use of high-dose isotretinoin (>1.3 mg/kg/day) as a treatment option in severe nodulocystic acne and encourage larger, prospective, multicenter studies into this therapeutic approach.
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