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

Standard Treatment Options for Newly Diagnosed ALL

Standard treatment options for newly diagnosed childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) include the following:

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  1. Chemotherapy.

Remission induction therapy

Induction chemotherapy consists of the following drugs, with or without an anthracycline:

The Children's Oncology Group (COG) protocols do not administer anthracycline during induction to patients with National Cancer Institute standard-risk precursor B-cell ALL. This three-drug induction regimen results in a complete remission rate of greater than 95% for standard-risk patients.[1]

Patients treated by other study groups receive a four-drug induction regimen regardless of presenting features:

  • Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster Group in Europe.[2]
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[3]
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium.[4]

The most common four-drug induction regimen is vincristine, corticosteroid (either dexamethasone or prednisone), L-asparaginase, and either doxorubicin or daunorubicin. Some studies have suggested that this more intensive induction regimen may result in improved event-free survival (EFS) in patients presenting with high-risk features.[5,6] The COG reserves the use of a four-drug induction for patients with high-risk B-precursor ALL and T-cell ALL.

For patients who are at standard risk or low risk of treatment failure, four-drug or more induction therapy does not appear necessary for favorable outcome provided that adequate postremission intensification therapy is administered.[5,7,8]

Corticosteroid therapy

Many current regimens utilize dexamethasone instead of prednisone during remission induction and later phases of therapy.

Evidence (dexamethasone):

  1. The Children's Cancer Group conducted a randomized trial comparing dexamethasone and prednisone in standard-risk ALL patients.
    • The trial reported that dexamethasone was associated with a superior EFS.[9]
  2. Another randomized trial was conducted by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.[10]
    • The trial demonstrated that dexamethasone was associated with a more favorable outcome than prednisolone in all patient subgroups.
    • Patients who received dexamethasone had a significantly lower incidence of both central nervous system (CNS) and non-CNS relapses than patients who received prednisolone.[10]
  3. Other randomized trials did not confirm an EFS advantage with dexamethasone.[11,12]

The ratio of dexamethasone to prednisone dose used may influence outcome. Studies in which the dexamethasone to prednisone ratio is 1:5 to 1:7 have shown a better result for dexamethasone, while studies using a 1:10 ratio have shown similar outcomes.[13]

While dexamethasone may be more effective than prednisone, data also suggest that dexamethasone may be more toxic, especially in the context of more intensive induction regimens and in adolescents.[14]

Several reports indicate that dexamethasone may increase the frequency and severity of infections and/or other complications in patients receiving anthracycline-containing induction regimens.[15,16] The increased risk of infection with dexamethasone during the induction phase has not been noted with three-drug induction regimens (vincristine, dexamethasone, and L-asparaginase).[10] Dexamethasone appears to have a greater suppressive effect on short-term linear growth than prednisone [17] and has been associated with a higher risk of osteonecrosis, especially in adolescent patients.[18]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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