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Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Postinduction Treatment for Childhood ALL

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Patients with very high-risk features have been treated with multiple cycles of intensive chemotherapy during the consolidation phase, often including agents not typically used in frontline ALL regimens for standard- and high-risk patients, such as high-dose cytarabine, ifosfamide, and etoposide.[17] However, even with this intensified approach, reported long-term EFS rates range from 30% to 50% for this patient subset.[17,27]

On some clinical trials, very high-risk patients have also been considered candidates for allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT) in first remission, [27,28,29] although it is not clear whether outcomes are better with transplantation.

Evidence (allogeneic SCT in first remission):

  1. In a European cooperative group study, very high-risk patients (defined as one of the following: morphologically persistent disease after a four-drug induction, t(9;22) or t(4;11), or poor response to prednisone prophase in patients with either T-cell phenotype or presenting white blood cells (WBC) >100,000/μL) were assigned to receive either an allogeneic SCT in first remission (based on the availability of a human lymphocyte antigen–matched related donor) or intensive chemotherapy.[27]
    • Using an intent-to-treat analysis, patients assigned to allogeneic SCT (on the basis of donor availability) had a superior 5-year disease-free survival (DFS) than patients assigned to intensive chemotherapy (57% ± 7% for transplant versus 41% ± 3% for chemotherapy, P = .02)
    • There was no significant difference in overall survival (OS) (56% ± 6% for transplant versus 50% ± 3% for chemotherapy, P = .12).
    • For patients with T- cell ALL and a poor response to prednisone prophase, both DFS and OS rates were significantly better with allogeneic SCT.[28]
  2. In another study of very high-risk patients that included children with extremely high presenting leukocyte counts and children with adverse cytogenetic abnormalities and/or initial induction failure (M2 marrow [between 5% and 25% blasts]), allogeneic SCT in first remission was not associated with either a DFS or OS advantage.[29]

Maintenance therapy

Backbone of maintenance therapy

The backbone of maintenance therapy in most protocols includes daily oral mercaptopurine and weekly oral or parenteral methotrexate. Clinical trials generally administer oral mercaptopurine in the evening, which is supported by evidence that this practice may improve EFS.[30] On many protocols, intrathecal chemotherapy for CNS sanctuary therapy is continued during maintenance therapy. It is imperative to carefully monitor children on maintenance therapy for both drug-related toxicity and for compliance with the oral chemotherapy agents used during maintenance therapy.[31]

Treating physicians must also recognize that some patients may develop severe hematopoietic toxicity when receiving conventional dosages of mercaptopurine because of an inherited deficiency (homozygous mutant) of thiopurine S-methyltransferase, an enzyme that inactivates mercaptopurine.[32,33] These patients are able to tolerate mercaptopurine only if dosages much lower than those conventionally used are administered.[32,33] Patients who are heterozygous for this mutant enzyme gene generally tolerate mercaptopurine without serious toxicity, but they do require more frequent dose reductions for hematopoietic toxicity than do patients who are homozygous for the normal allele.[32]

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