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Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Late Effects of the Central Nervous System


Most neurocognitive late effects are thought to be related to white matter damage in the brain. This was investigated in children with leukemia who were treated with HSCT. In a series of 36 patients, performance on neurocognitive measures associated with white matter was compared with performance on measures associated with gray matter. Composite white matter scores were significantly lower than composite gray matter scores.[55]

Neurologic Sequelae

Neurologic complications may be predisposed by tumor location, neurosurgery, radiation therapy, or specific neurotoxic chemotherapeutic agents. In children with CNS tumors, mass effect, tumor infiltration, and increased intracranial pressure may result in motor or sensory deficits, cerebellar dysfunction, and such secondary effects as seizures and cerebrovascular complications.

Clinical or radiographic leukoencephalopathy has been reported after cranial irradiation and high-dose systemic methotrexate administration. Younger patients and those given radiation doses greater than 24 Gy are more vulnerable to this complication. White matter changes may be accompanied by such neuroimaging abnormalities as dystrophic calcifications, cerebral lacunae, and cerebral atrophy.

Vinca alkaloid agents (vincristine and vinblastine) and cisplatin may cause peripheral neuropathy. This condition presents during treatment and appears to clinically resolve after completion of therapy. However, higher cumulative doses of vincristine and/or intrathecal methotrexate have been linked to neuromuscular impairments in long-term survivors of childhood ALL, which suggests that persistent effects of these agents may affect functional status in aging survivors.[56] Among adult survivors of extracranial solid tumors of childhood (median time from diagnosis, 25 years), standardized assessment of neuromuscular function disclosed motor impairment in association with vincristine exposure and sensory impairment in association with cisplatin exposure.[57] Survivors with sensory impairment demonstrated a higher prevalence of functional performance limitations related to poor endurance and mobility restrictions. These studies underscore the importance of assessment and referral to rehabilitative services to optimize functional outcomes among long-term survivors.

In a report from the CCSS that compared 4,151 adult survivors of childhood ALL with their siblings, survivors were at an elevated risk for late-onset coordination problems, motor problems, seizures, and headaches. The overall cumulative incidence was 44% at 20 years. Serious headaches were most common, with a cumulative incidence of 25.8% at 20 years followed by focal neurologic dysfunction (21.2%) and seizures (7%). Children who were treated with regimens that included cranial radiation for ALL and those who suffer relapse were at increased risk for late-onset neurologic sequelae.[58]

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