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


For regimens that include vincristine/steroid pulses, a number of studies have addressed which steroid (dexamethasone or prednisone) should be used. From these studies, it appears that dexamethasone is associated with superior EFS, but also may lead to a greater frequency of steroid-associated complications, including bone toxicity and infections, especially in older children and adolescents. Dexamethasone has not been associated with an increased frequency of these complications in younger patients.[13,46,47,48,49]

Evidence (dexamethasone vs. prednisone):

  1. In a CCG study, dexamethasone was compared with prednisone for children aged 1 to younger than 10 years with lower-risk ALL.[13,46]
    • Patients randomly assigned to receive dexamethasone had significantly fewer CNS relapses and a significantly better EFS rate.
  2. In a Medical Research Council trial, dexamethasone was compared with prednisolone during induction and maintenance therapies in both standard-risk and high-risk patients.[47]
    • The EFS and incidence of both CNS and non-CNS relapses improved with the use of dexamethasone.
    • Dexamethasone was associated with an increased risk of steroid-associated toxicities, including behavioral problems, myopathy, and osteopenia.
  3. In a DFCI ALL Consortium trial, patients were randomly assigned to receive either dexamethasone or prednisone during all postinduction treatment phases.[49]
    • Dexamethasone was associated with a superior EFS, but also with a higher frequency of infections (primarily episodes of bacteremia) and, in patients aged 10 years or older, an increased incidence of osteonecrosis and fracture.

The benefit of using dexamethasone in children aged 10 to 18 years requires further investigation because of the increased risk of steroid-induced osteonecrosis in this age group.[20,48]

Duration of maintenance therapy

Maintenance chemotherapy generally continues until 2 to 3 years of continuous CR. On some studies, boys are treated longer than girls;[13] on others, there is no difference in the duration of treatment based on gender.[11,17] It is not clear whether longer duration of maintenance therapy reduces relapse in boys, especially in the context of current therapies.[17][Level of evidence: 2Di] Extending the duration of maintenance therapy beyond 3 years does not improve outcome.[42]

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