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Cancer Health Center

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


Despite disease- and treatment-related risks of bone mineral density deficits, the prevalence of self-reported fractures among Childhood Cancer Survivor Study participants was lower than that reported by sibling controls. Predictors of increased prevalence of fracture by multivariable analyses included increasing age at follow-up, white race, methotrexate treatment, and balance difficulties among females and smoking history and white race among male survivors.[50] Radiation-induced fractures can occur with doses of radiation of 50 Gy or more, as is often used in the treatment of Ewing sarcoma of the extremity.[51,52]


Osteonecrosis (also known as aseptic or avascular necrosis) is a rare, but well-recognized skeletal complication observed predominantly in survivors of pediatric hematological malignancies treated with corticosteroids.[24,53,54,55] The condition is characterized by death of one or more segments of bone that most often affects weight-bearing joints, especially the hips and knees. Longitudinal cohort studies have identified a spectrum of clinical manifestations of osteonecrosis, ranging from asymptomatic spontaneously-resolving imaging changes to painful progressive articular collapse requiring joint replacement.[56,57] Symptomatic osteonecrosis characterized by pain, joint swelling, and reduced mobility typically presents during the first 2 years of therapy, particularly in the case of ALL. These symptoms may improve over time, persist, or progress in the years after completion of therapy. In some series, up to 40% of patients required some type of surgical procedure.[55] The prevalence of osteonecrosis has varied from 1% to 22% based on the study population, treatment protocol, method of evaluation, and time from treatment.[55,58,59,60,61,62]

The most important clinical risk factor for osteonecrosis is treatment with substantial doses of glucocorticoids, as is typical in regimens used for ALL, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and HSCT.[60,63,64,65,66] Delayed intensification therapies for childhood ALL featuring the more potent glucocorticoid, dexamethasone, have been speculated to enhance risk since osteonecrosis was infrequently reported before this approach became more widely used in the 1990s. However, currently available results suggest that cumulative corticosteroid dose may be a better predictor of this complication.[63,67] Higher cholesterol, lower albumin, and higher dexamethasone exposure have been associated with a higher risk of symptomatic osteonecrosis, suggesting that agents like asparaginase may potentiate the osteonecrotic effect of dexamethasone.[62]

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