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Cancer Health Center

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Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Risk-based Treatment Assignment


Response to initial treatment affecting prognosis

The rapidity with which leukemia cells are eliminated after initiation of treatment and the level of residual disease at the end of induction are associated with long-term outcome. Because treatment response is influenced by the drug sensitivity of leukemic cells and host pharmacodynamics and pharmacogenomics,[184] early response has strong prognostic significance. Various ways of evaluating the leukemia cell response to treatment have been utilized, including the following:

  1. MRD determination.
  2. Day 7 and day 14 bone marrow responses.
  3. Peripheral blood response to steroid prophase.
  4. Peripheral blood response to multiagent induction therapy.
  5. Peripheral blood MRD before end of induction (day 8, day 15).
  6. Induction failure.

MRD determination

Morphologic assessment of residual leukemia in blood or bone marrow is often difficult and is relatively insensitive. Traditionally, a cutoff of 5% blasts in the bone marrow (detected by light microscopy) has been used to determine remission status. This corresponds to a level of 1 in 20 malignant cells. If one wishes to detect lower levels of leukemic cells in either blood or marrow, specialized techniques such as PCR assays, which determine unique Ig/T-cell receptor gene rearrangements, fusion transcripts produced by chromosome translocations, or flow cytometric assays, which detect leukemia-specific immunophenotypes, are required. With these techniques, detection of as few as 1 leukemia cell in 100,000 normal cells is possible, and MRD at the level of 1 in 10,000 cells can be detected routinely.[185]

Multiple studies have demonstrated that end-induction MRD is an important, independent predictor of outcome in children and adolescents with B-lineage ALL.[130,186,187,188,189] MRD response discriminates outcome in subsets of patients defined by age, leukocyte count, and cytogenetic abnormalities.[190] Patients with higher levels of end-induction MRD have a poorer prognosis than those with lower or undetectable levels.[130,185,186,187,191] End-induction MRD is used by almost all groups as a factor determining the intensity of postinduction treatment, with patients found to have higher levels allocated to more intensive therapies. MRD levels at earlier (e.g., day 8 and day 15 of induction) and later time points (e.g., week 12 of therapy) also predict outcome.[130,185,187,190,191,192,193,194,195]

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