Leukemia, Acute Lymphoblastic (ALL)

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    Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing type of blood cancer in which too many lymphoblasts (immature white blood cells) are found in the blood and bone marrow. Learn about acute lymphoblastic leukemia and find information on how we support and care for children and teens with ALL before, during, and after treatment.

The Hematologic Malignancy Center at Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is one of the top pediatric leukemia and lymphoma treatment centers in the world. In addition to treating lymphomas and leukemias, our center treats the primary types of histiocytosis.

All members of our treatment team — including oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, stem cell transplant physicians and oncology nurses — have specific expertise in pediatric hematologic malignancies. Many of our specialists are recognized as national leaders in their field.

Our clinical research program enables us to offer innovative clinical trials for children of all ages and with many forms of hematologic malignancies. Our clinical team works closely with researchers to develop new treatments based on the latest scientific discoveries.

Our services include:

  • expert hematopathologic evaluation using advanced diagnostic techniques
  • an individualized treatment plan tailored to your child's needs
  • an internationally recognized pediatric stem cell transplant program
  • innovative treatment options for all types of pediatric hematologic malignancies

Additional support services for our patients include:

  • psychologists and social workers for all patients, siblings and parents
  • complementary therapies consultation and treatment integrated into the comprehensive care plan
  • the services of other specialists as needed, including experts in cardiology, pulmonary, endocrinology, reproductive and gynecologic services, neurology, anesthesia, dermatology, nutrition, and physical therapy
  • a survivorship clinic that offers clinical and support resources to address the medical and psychosocial challenges of being a cancer survivor.

Learn more about our Hematologic Malignancy Center.

Information for: Patients | Healthcare Professionals

Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

What is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)?

In the form of leukemia known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a group of white blood cells called lymphocytes is affected. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is also called lymphoblastic or lymphoid leukemia. ALL accounts for about 75 to 80 percent of the childhood leukemias. Leukemia is the most common form of cancer in children, affecting about 3,000 children each year in the United States, accounting for about 30 percent of childhood cancers.

How Dana-Farber/Boston Children's approaches acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Children with acute lymphobastic leukemia are treated through the Leukemia Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's has played a key role in refining treatment for childhood leukemia, resulting in today's cure rates of more than 85 percent for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment

Your child's physician will determine a specific course of treatment for childhood leukemia based on several factors. Treatment for ALL is a long-term process. Chemotherapy and other treatment for the disease may take two years or more to complete.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that interferes with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. For some types of cancer, chemotherapy is used alone, while in others it is used in conjunction with other therapy, such as radiation or surgery. Chemotherapy is the standard first treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the medications don't distinguish healthy cells from cancer cells. As a result, there can be side effects during treatment. Your child's care team will work to manage or prevent these side effects whenever possible.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (radiation) from a specialized machine to damage or kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is usually only given if your child is at a high risk of relapse occurring in the brain or central nervous system.

Stem cell transplant

A stem cell (or bone marrow) transplant is a treatment that is rarely used to treat ALL. Stem cells are a specific type of cell from which all blood cells develop. They can develop into red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight disease and infection and platelets to aid in blood clotting. Stem cells are found primarily in bone marrow, but some also circulate in the blood stream. In ALL, the cells for a stem cell transplant come from donors (other people). These donated cells are used to replace your child's stem cells after particularly intense treatment with chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia clinical trials

Dana-Farber/Boston Children's leads pediatric leukemia clinical trials designed to increase cure rates, decrease treatment-related side effects and improve care for long-term survivors. We also have opened clincal trials of new drugs and new chemotherapy combinations for children with relapsed ALL.

Learn more

Find more in-depth information on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s website, including answers to:

  • What are the symptoms of ALL?
  • How is ALL diagnosed?
  • What are the treatment phases for ALL?
  • What is the long-term outlook for ALL?

General Information About Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Fortunately, cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence of childhood cancer, including ALL, has been slowly increasing since 1975.[1] Children and adolescents with cancer should be referred to medical centers that have a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists with experience treating the cancers that occur during childhood and adolescence. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:

  • Primary care physician.
  • Pediatric surgical subspecialists.
  • Radiation oncologists.
  • Pediatric medical oncologists/hematologists.
  • Rehabilitation specialists.
  • Pediatric nurse specialists.
  • Social workers.
  • Child life professionals.
  • Psychologists.

(Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)

Guidelines for cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer have been outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[2] Because treatment of children with ALL entails complicated risk assignment and therapies and the need for intensive supportive care (e.g., transfusions; management of infectious complications; and emotional, financial, and developmental support), evaluation and treatment are best coordinated by pediatric oncologists in cancer centers or hospitals with all of the necessary pediatric supportive care facilities. It is important that the clinical centers and the specialists directing the patient’s care maintain contact with the referring physician in the community. Strong lines of communication optimize any urgent or interim care required when the child is at home.

Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved in children and adolescents with cancer.[1][3][4] Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%.[3][4] For ALL, the 5-year survival rate has increased over the same time from 60% to approximately 90% for children younger than 15 years and from 28% to approximately 70% for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.[1][3][4][5] Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close follow-up because cancer therapy side effects may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)

Incidence and Epidemiology

ALL is the most common cancer diagnosed in children and represents approximately 25% of cancer diagnoses among children younger than 15 years.[3][4] ALL occurs at an annual rate of 35 to 40 cases per 1 million people in the United States.[3][4][6] There are approximately 2,900 children and adolescents younger than 20 years diagnosed with ALL each year in the United States.[6][7] Over the past 25 years, there has been a gradual increase in the incidence of ALL.[3][4][8]

A sharp peak in ALL incidence is observed among children aged 2 to 3 years (>90 cases per 1 million per year), with rates decreasing to fewer than 30 cases per 1 million by age 8 years.[3][4] The incidence of ALL among children aged 2 to 3 years is approximately fourfold greater than that for infants and is likewise fourfold to fivefold greater than that for children aged 10 years and older.[3][4]

The incidence of ALL appears to be highest in Hispanic children (43 cases per 1 million).[3][4][6] The incidence is substantially higher in white children than in black children, with a nearly threefold higher incidence of ALL from age 2 to 3 years in white children than in black children.[3][4][6]

Anatomy

Childhood ALL originates in the T- and B-lymphoblasts in the bone marrow (see Figure 1).

Blood cell development; drawing shows the steps a blood stem cell goes through to become a red blood cell, platelet, or white blood cell. A myeloid stem cell becomes a red blood cell, a platelet, or a myeloblast, which then becomes a granulocyte (the types of granulocytes are eosinophils, basophils, and neutrophils). A lymphoid stem cell becomes a lymphoblast and then becomes a B-lymphocyte, T-lymphocyte, or natural killer cell.
Figure 1. Blood cell development. Different blood and immune cell lineages, including T- and B-lymphocytes, differentiate from a common blood stem cell.

Marrow involvement of acute leukemia as seen by light microscopy is defined as follows:

  • M1: Fewer than 5% blast cells.
  • M2: 5% to 25% blast cells.
  • M3: Greater than 25% blast cells.

Most patients with acute leukemia present with an M3 marrow.

Risk Factors for Developing ALL

Few factors associated with an increased risk of ALL have been identified. The primary accepted risk factors for ALL include the following:

  • Prenatal exposure to x-rays.
  • Postnatal exposure to high doses of radiation (e.g., therapeutic radiation as previously used for conditions such as tinea capitis and thymus enlargement).
  • Genetic conditions that include the following:
    • Down syndrome.
    • Neurofibromatosis.[9]
    • Shwachman syndrome.[10][11]
    • Bloom syndrome.[12]
    • Ataxia telangiectasia.[13]
  • Inherited genetic polymorphisms.

Down syndrome

Children with Down syndrome have an increased risk of developing both ALL and acute myeloid leukemia (AML),[14][15] with a cumulative risk of developing leukemia of approximately 2.1% by age 5 years and 2.7% by age 30 years.[14][15]

Approximately one-half to two-thirds of cases of acute leukemia in children with Down syndrome are ALL, and about 2% to 3% of childhood ALL cases occur in children with Down syndrome.[16][17][18] While the vast majority of cases of AML in children with Down syndrome occur before the age of 4 years (median age, 1 year),[19] ALL in children with Down syndrome has an age distribution similar to that of ALL in non–Down syndrome children, with a median age of 3 to 4 years.[16][17]

Patients with ALL and Down syndrome have a lower incidence of both favorable (t(12;21) and hyperdiploidy) and unfavorable (t(9;22) or t(4;11) and hypodiploidy) cytogenetic findings and a near absence of T-cell phenotype.[16][17][18][19] Approximately 50% to 60% of cases of ALL in children with Down syndrome have genomic alterations affecting CRLF2 that generally result in overexpression of this gene.[20][21][22]CRLF2 genomic alterations are observed at a much lower frequency (<10%) in children with B-precursor ALL who do not have Down syndrome.[22][23][24] It does not appear that genomic CRLF2 aberrations in patients with Down syndrome and ALL have prognostic relevance.[21] However, IKZF1 gene deletions, observed in up to 35% of patients with Down syndrome and ALL, have been associated with a significantly worse outcome in this group of patients.[21]

Approximately 20% of ALL cases arising in children with Down syndrome have somatically acquired JAK2 mutations,[20][21][25][26][27] a finding that is uncommon among younger children with ALL but that is observed in a subset of primarily older children and adolescents with high-risk B-precursor ALL.[28] Almost all Down syndrome ALL cases with JAK2 mutations also have CRLF2 genomic alterations.[20][21][22] Preliminary evidence suggests no correlation between JAK2 mutation status and 5-year event-free survival in children with Down syndrome and ALL,[21][26] but more study is needed to address this issue and the prognostic significance of IKZF1 gene deletions.

Inherited genetic polymorphisms

Genome-wide association studies show that some germline (inherited) genetic polymorphisms are associated with the development of childhood ALL.[29] For example, the risk alleles of ARID5B are strongly associated with the development of hyperdiploid B-precursor ALL. ARID5B is a gene that encodes a transcriptional factor important in embryonic development, cell type–specific gene expression, and cell growth regulation.[30][31]

Prenatal origin of childhood ALL

Development of ALL is in most cases a multi-step process, with more than one genomic alteration required for frank leukemia to develop. In at least some cases of childhood ALL, the initial genomic alteration appears to occur in utero. Evidence in support of this comes from the observation that the immunoglobulin or T-cell receptor antigen rearrangements that are unique to each patient’s leukemia cells can be detected in blood samples obtained at birth.[32][33] Similarly, in ALL characterized by specific chromosomal abnormalities, some patients appear to have blood cells carrying at least one leukemic genomic abnormality at the time of birth, with additional cooperative genomic changes acquired postnatally.[32][33][34] Genomic studies of identical twins with concordant leukemia further support the prenatal origin of some leukemias.[32][35]

There is also evidence that some children who never develop ALL are born with very rare blood cells carrying a genomic alteration associated with ALL. For example, in one study, 1% of neonatal blood spots (Guthrie cards) tested positive for the ETV6-RUNX1 translocation, far exceeding the number of cases of ETV6-RUNX1 ALL in children.[36] Other reports confirm [37] or do not confirm [38] this finding. Nonetheless, if confirmed, it would support the hypothesis that additional postnatal genomic changes are needed for the development of this type of ALL and that in most cases in which a leukemia-associated alteration is present at birth, the additional leukemogenic genomic changes do not occur and no leukemia develops.

Clinical Presentation

The typical and atypical symptoms and clinical findings of childhood ALL have been published.[39][40][41]

Diagnosis

The diagnostic evaluation needed to definitively diagnose childhood ALL has been published.[39][40][41][42]

Overall Outcome for ALL

Among children with ALL, more than 95% attain remission, and approximately 80% of patients aged 1 to 18 years with newly diagnosed ALL treated on current regimens are expected to be long-term event-free survivors.[43][44][45][46][47][48]

Despite the treatment advances noted in childhood ALL, numerous important biologic and therapeutic questions remain to be answered before the goal of curing every child with ALL with the least associated toxicity can be achieved. The systematic investigation of these issues requires large clinical trials, and the opportunity to participate in these trials is offered to most patients/families.

Clinical trials for children and adolescents with ALL are generally designed to compare therapy that is currently accepted as standard with investigational regimens that seek to improve cure rates and/or decrease toxicity. In certain trials in which the cure rate for the patient group is very high, therapy reduction questions may be asked. Much of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood ALL and other childhood cancers has been achieved through investigator-driven discovery and tested in carefully randomized, controlled, multi-institutional clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

References:

  1. Smith MA, Seibel NL, Altekruse SF, et al.: Outcomes for children and adolescents with cancer: challenges for the twenty-first century. J Clin Oncol 28 (15): 2625-34, 2010.

  2. Guidelines for the pediatric cancer center and role of such centers in diagnosis and treatment. American Academy of Pediatrics Section Statement Section on Hematology/Oncology. Pediatrics 99 (1): 139-41, 1997.

  3. Childhood cancer. In: Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al., eds.: SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2010. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute, based on November 2012 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2013, Section 28. Also available online. Last accessed November 26, 2013.

  4. Childhood cancer by the ICCC. In: Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al., eds.: SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2010. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute, based on November 2012 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2013, Section 29. Also available online. Last accessed November 26, 2013.

  5. Hunger SP, Lu X, Devidas M, et al.: Improved survival for children and adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia between 1990 and 2005: a report from the children's oncology group. J Clin Oncol 30 (14): 1663-9, 2012.

  6. Smith MA, Ries LA, Gurney JG, et al.: Leukemia. In: Ries LA, Smith MA, Gurney JG, et al., eds.: Cancer incidence and survival among children and adolescents: United States SEER Program 1975-1995. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute, SEER Program, 1999. NIH Pub.No. 99-4649., pp 17-34. Also available online. Last accessed November 26, 2013.

  7. Dores GM, Devesa SS, Curtis RE, et al.: Acute leukemia incidence and patient survival among children and adults in the United States, 2001-2007. Blood 119 (1): 34-43, 2012.

  8. Shah A, Coleman MP: Increasing incidence of childhood leukaemia: a controversy re-examined. Br J Cancer 97 (7): 1009-12, 2007.

  9. Stiller CA, Chessells JM, Fitchett M: Neurofibromatosis and childhood leukaemia/lymphoma: a population-based UKCCSG study. Br J Cancer 70 (5): 969-72, 1994.

  10. Strevens MJ, Lilleyman JS, Williams RB: Shwachman's syndrome and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Br Med J 2 (6129): 18, 1978.

  11. Woods WG, Roloff JS, Lukens JN, et al.: The occurrence of leukemia in patients with the Shwachman syndrome. J Pediatr 99 (3): 425-8, 1981.

  12. Passarge E: Bloom's syndrome: the German experience. Ann Genet 34 (3-4): 179-97, 1991.

  13. Taylor AM, Metcalfe JA, Thick J, et al.: Leukemia and lymphoma in ataxia telangiectasia. Blood 87 (2): 423-38, 1996.

  14. Hasle H: Pattern of malignant disorders in individuals with Down's syndrome. Lancet Oncol 2 (7): 429-36, 2001.

  15. Whitlock JA: Down syndrome and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Br J Haematol 135 (5): 595-602, 2006.

  16. Zeller B, Gustafsson G, Forestier E, et al.: Acute leukaemia in children with Down syndrome: a population-based Nordic study. Br J Haematol 128 (6): 797-804, 2005.

  17. Arico M, Ziino O, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia and Down syndrome: presenting features and treatment outcome in the experience of the Italian Association of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology (AIEOP). Cancer 113 (3): 515-21, 2008.

  18. Maloney KW, Carroll WL, Carroll AJ, et al.: Down syndrome childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia has a unique spectrum of sentinel cytogenetic lesions that influences treatment outcome: a report from the Children's Oncology Group. Blood 116 (7): 1045-50, 2010.

  19. Chessells JM, Harrison G, Richards SM, et al.: Down's syndrome and acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: clinical features and response to treatment. Arch Dis Child 85 (4): 321-5, 2001.

  20. Hertzberg L, Vendramini E, Ganmore I, et al.: Down syndrome acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a highly heterogeneous disease in which aberrant expression of CRLF2 is associated with mutated JAK2: a report from the International BFM Study Group. Blood 115 (5): 1006-17, 2010.

  21. Buitenkamp TD, Pieters R, Gallimore NE, et al.: Outcome in children with Down's syndrome and acute lymphoblastic leukemia: role of IKZF1 deletions and CRLF2 aberrations. Leukemia 26 (10): 2204-11, 2012.

  22. Mullighan CG, Collins-Underwood JR, Phillips LA, et al.: Rearrangement of CRLF2 in B-progenitor- and Down syndrome-associated acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Nat Genet 41 (11): 1243-6, 2009.

  23. Harvey RC, Mullighan CG, Chen IM, et al.: Rearrangement of CRLF2 is associated with mutation of JAK kinases, alteration of IKZF1, Hispanic/Latino ethnicity, and a poor outcome in pediatric B-progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 115 (26): 5312-21, 2010.

  24. Schwab CJ, Chilton L, Morrison H, et al.: Genes commonly deleted in childhood B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia: association with cytogenetics and clinical features. Haematologica 98 (7): 1081-8, 2013.

  25. Bercovich D, Ganmore I, Scott LM, et al.: Mutations of JAK2 in acute lymphoblastic leukaemias associated with Down's syndrome. Lancet 372 (9648): 1484-92, 2008.

  26. Gaikwad A, Rye CL, Devidas M, et al.: Prevalence and clinical correlates of JAK2 mutations in Down syndrome acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Br J Haematol 144 (6): 930-2, 2009.

  27. Kearney L, Gonzalez De Castro D, Yeung J, et al.: Specific JAK2 mutation (JAK2R683) and multiple gene deletions in Down syndrome acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 113 (3): 646-8, 2009.

  28. Mullighan CG, Zhang J, Harvey RC, et al.: JAK mutations in high-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106 (23): 9414-8, 2009.

  29. de Jonge R, Tissing WJ, Hooijberg JH, et al.: Polymorphisms in folate-related genes and risk of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 113 (10): 2284-9, 2009.

  30. Papaemmanuil E, Hosking FJ, Vijayakrishnan J, et al.: Loci on 7p12.2, 10q21.2 and 14q11.2 are associated with risk of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Nat Genet 41 (9): 1006-10, 2009.

  31. Treviño LR, Yang W, French D, et al.: Germline genomic variants associated with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Nat Genet 41 (9): 1001-5, 2009.

  32. Greaves MF, Wiemels J: Origins of chromosome translocations in childhood leukaemia. Nat Rev Cancer 3 (9): 639-49, 2003.

  33. Taub JW, Konrad MA, Ge Y, et al.: High frequency of leukemic clones in newborn screening blood samples of children with B-precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 99 (8): 2992-6, 2002.

  34. Bateman CM, Colman SM, Chaplin T, et al.: Acquisition of genome-wide copy number alterations in monozygotic twins with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 115 (17): 3553-8, 2010.

  35. Greaves MF, Maia AT, Wiemels JL, et al.: Leukemia in twins: lessons in natural history. Blood 102 (7): 2321-33, 2003.

  36. Mori H, Colman SM, Xiao Z, et al.: Chromosome translocations and covert leukemic clones are generated during normal fetal development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99 (12): 8242-7, 2002.

  37. Zuna J, Madzo J, Krejci O, et al.: ETV6/RUNX1 (TEL/AML1) is a frequent prenatal first hit in childhood leukemia. Blood 117 (1): 368-9; author reply 370-1, 2011.

  38. Lausten-Thomsen U, Madsen HO, Vestergaard TR, et al.: Prevalence of t(12;21)[ETV6-RUNX1]-positive cells in healthy neonates. Blood 117 (1): 186-9, 2011.

  39. Margolin J, Rabin K, Steuber CP, et al.: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds.: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2011, pp 518-65.

  40. Chessells JM; haemostasis and thrombosis task force, British committee for standards in haematology.: Pitfalls in the diagnosis of childhood leukaemia. Br J Haematol 114 (3): 506-11, 2001.

  41. Onciu M: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am 23 (4): 655-74, 2009.

  42. Heerema-McKenney A, Cleary M, Arber D: Pathology and molecular diagnosis of leukemias and lymphomas. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds.: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2011, pp 138-63.

  43. Möricke A, Reiter A, Zimmermann M, et al.: Risk-adjusted therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can decrease treatment burden and improve survival: treatment results of 2169 unselected pediatric and adolescent patients enrolled in the trial ALL-BFM 95. Blood 111 (9): 4477-89, 2008.

  44. Moghrabi A, Levy DE, Asselin B, et al.: Results of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01 for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 109 (3): 896-904, 2007.

  45. Pui CH, Campana D, Pei D, et al.: Treating childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia without cranial irradiation. N Engl J Med 360 (26): 2730-41, 2009.

  46. Veerman AJ, Kamps WA, van den Berg H, et al.: Dexamethasone-based therapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the prospective Dutch Childhood Oncology Group (DCOG) protocol ALL-9 (1997-2004). Lancet Oncol 10 (10): 957-66, 2009.

  47. Salzer WL, Devidas M, Carroll WL, et al.: Long-term results of the pediatric oncology group studies for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia 1984-2001: a report from the children's oncology group. Leukemia 24 (2): 355-70, 2010.

  48. Gaynon PS, Angiolillo AL, Carroll WL, et al.: Long-term results of the children's cancer group studies for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia 1983-2002: a Children's Oncology Group Report. Leukemia 24 (2): 285-97, 2010.

Risk-based Treatment Assignment

Introduction to Risk-based Treatment

Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are usually treated according to risk groups defined by both clinical and laboratory features. The intensity of treatment required for favorable outcome varies substantially among subsets of children with ALL. Risk-based treatment assignment is utilized in children with ALL so that patients with favorable clinical and biological features who are likely to have a very good outcome with modest therapy can be spared more intensive and toxic treatment, while a more aggressive, and potentially more toxic, therapeutic approach can be provided for patients who have a lower probability of long-term survival.[1][2][3]

Certain ALL study groups, such as the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), use a more or less intensive induction regimen based on a subset of pretreatment factors, while other groups give a similar induction regimen to all patients. Factors used by the COG to determine the intensity of induction include immunophenotype and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) risk group classification. The NCI risk group classification stratifies risk according to age and white blood cell (WBC) count:[1]

  • Standard risk—WBC count less than 50,000/μL and age 1 to younger than 10 years.
  • High risk—WBC count 50,000/μL or greater and/or age 10 years or older.

All study groups modify the intensity of postinduction therapy based on a variety of prognostic factors, including NCI risk group, immunophenotype, early response determinations, and cytogenetics.[3]

Risk-based treatment assignment requires the availability of prognostic factors that reliably predict outcome. For children with ALL, a number of factors have demonstrated prognostic value, some of which are described below.[4] The factors described are grouped into the following three categories:

  • Patient characteristics affecting prognosis.
  • Leukemic cell characteristics affecting prognosis.
  • Response to initial treatment affecting prognosis.

As in any discussion of prognostic factors, the relative order of significance and the interrelationship of the variables are often treatment dependent and require multivariate analysis to determine which factors operate independently as prognostic variables.[5][6] Because prognostic factors are treatment dependent, improvements in therapy may diminish or abrogate the significance of any of these presumed prognostic factors.

A subset of the prognostic and clinical factors discussed below is used for the initial stratification of children with ALL for treatment assignment. (Refer to the Prognostic (risk) groups under clinical evaluation section of this summary for brief descriptions of the prognostic groupings currently applied in ongoing clinical trials in the United States.)

(Refer to the Prognostic Factors After First Relapse of Childhood ALL section of this summary for information about important prognostic factors at relapse.)

Prognostic Factors Affecting Risk-based Treatment

Patient characteristics affecting prognosis

Patient characteristics affecting prognosis include the following:

  1. Age at diagnosis.
  2. WBC count at diagnosis.
  3. Central nervous system (CNS) involvement at diagnosis.
  4. Testicular involvement at diagnosis.
  5. Down syndrome (trisomy 21).
  6. Gender.
  7. Race.

Age at diagnosis

Age at diagnosis has strong prognostic significance, reflecting the different underlying biology of ALL in different age groups.[7]

  1. Infants (younger than 1 year)

    Infants with ALL have a particularly high risk of treatment failure. Treatment failure is most common in the following groups:[8][9][10][11]

    • Infants younger than 6 months (with an even poorer prognosis for those aged 60 to 90 days).
    • Infants with extremely high presenting leukocyte counts.
    • Infants with a poor response to a prednisone prophase.
    • Infants with an MLL gene rearrangement.

    Approximately 80% of infants with ALL have an MLL gene rearrangement.[10][12][13] The rate of MLL gene translocations is extremely high in infants younger than 6 months; from 6 months to 1 year, the incidence of MLL translocations decreases but remains higher than that observed in older children.[10][14] Black infants with ALL are significantly less likely to have MLL translocations than white infants.[14] Infants with leukemia and MLL translocations typically have very high WBC counts and an increased incidence of CNS involvement. Overall survival (OS) is poor, especially in infants younger than 6 months.[10][11] A gene expression profile analysis in infants with MLL-rearranged ALL revealed significant differences between patients younger than 90 days and older infants, suggesting distinctive age-related biological behaviors for MLL-translocation ALL that may relate to the significantly poorer outcome for the youngest infants.[15]

    Blasts from infants with MLL translocations are typically CD10 negative and express high levels of FLT3.[10][11][13][16] Conversely, infants whose leukemic cells show a germline MLL gene configuration frequently present with CD10-positive precursor-B immunophenotype. These infants have a significantly better outcome than do infants with ALL characterized by MLL translocations.[10][11][13]

  2. Young children (aged 1 to <10 years)

    Young children (aged 1 to <10 years) have a better disease-free survival (DFS) than older children, adolescents, and infants.[1][7][17] The improved prognosis in young children is at least partly explained by the more frequent occurrence of favorable cytogenetic features in the leukemic blasts including hyperdiploidy with 51 or more chromosomes and/or favorable chromosome trisomies, or the ETV6-RUNX1 (t(12;21), also known as the TEL-AML1 translocation).[7][18][19]

  3. Adolescents and young adults (≥10 years)

    In general, the outcome of patients aged 10 years and older is inferior to that of patients aged 1 to younger than 10 years. However, the outcome for older children, especially adolescents, has improved significantly over time.[20][21][22] Five-year survival rates for adolescents aged 15 to 19 years increased from 36% (1975–1984) to 72% (2003–2009).[23][24][25] Multiple retrospective studies have suggested that adolescents aged 16 to 21 years have a better outcome when treated on pediatric versus adult protocols.[26][27][28] (Refer to the Postinduction Treatment for Specific ALL Subgroups section of this summary for more information about adolescents with ALL.)

WBC count at diagnosis

A WBC count of 50,000/µL is generally used as an operational cut point between better and poorer prognosis,[1] although the relationship between WBC count and prognosis is a continuous rather than a step function. Patients with B-precursor ALL and high WBC counts at diagnosis have an increased risk of treatment failure compared with patients with low initial WBC counts.

The median WBC count at diagnosis is much higher for T-cell ALL (>50,000/µL) than for B-precursor ALL (<10,000/µL), and there is no consistent effect of WBC count at diagnosis on prognosis for T-cell ALL.[6][29][30][31][32][33][34][35] One factor that might explain the lack of prognostic effect for WBC count at diagnosis may be the very poor outcome observed for T-cell ALL with the early T-cell precursor phenotype, as patients with this subtype appear to have lower WBC count at diagnosis (median, <50,000/µL) than do other T-cell ALL patients.[36]

CNS involvement at diagnosis

The presence or absence of CNS leukemia at diagnosis has prognostic significance. Patients who have a nontraumatic diagnostic lumbar puncture may be placed into one of three categories according to the number of WBC/µL and the presence or absence of blasts on cytospin as follows:

  • CNS1: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is cytospin negative for blasts regardless of WBC count.
  • CNS2: CSF with fewer than 5 WBC/µL and cytospin positive for blasts.
  • CNS3 (CNS disease): CSF with 5 or more WBC/µL and cytospin positive for blasts.

Children with ALL who present with CNS disease (CNS3) at diagnosis are at a higher risk of treatment failure (both within the CNS and systemically) than are patients who are classified as CNS1 or CNS2.[37] Some studies have reported increased risk of CNS relapse and/or inferior event-free survival (EFS) in CNS2 patients, compared with CNS1 patients,[38][39] while others have not.[37][40][41][42]

A traumatic lumbar puncture (≥10 erythrocytes/µL) that includes blasts at diagnosis has also been associated with increased risk of CNS relapse and overall poorer outcome in some studies,[37][41][43][43] but not others.[38][40] Patients with CNS2, CNS3, or traumatic lumbar puncture have a higher frequency of unfavorable prognostic characteristics than do those with CNS1, including significantly higher WBC counts at diagnosis, older age at diagnosis, an increased frequency of the T-cell ALL phenotype, and MLL gene rearrangements.[37][40][41]

Some clinical trial groups have approached CNS2 and traumatic lumbar puncture by utilizing more intensive therapy, primarily additional doses of intrathecal therapy during induction.[37][44]; [40][Level of evidence: 2A] Other groups have not altered therapy based on CNS2 status.[38][45]

To determine whether a patient with a traumatic lumbar puncture (with blasts) should be treated as CNS3, the COG uses an algorithm relating the WBC and red blood cell counts in the spinal fluid and the peripheral blood.[46]

Testicular involvement at diagnosis

Overt testicular involvement at the time of diagnosis occurs in approximately 2% of males, most commonly in T-cell ALL.

In early ALL trials, testicular involvement at diagnosis was an adverse prognostic factor. With more aggressive initial therapy, however, it does not appear that testicular involvement at diagnosis has prognostic significance.[47][48] For example, the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC [EORTC-58881]) reported no adverse prognostic significance for overt testicular involvement at diagnosis.[48]

The role of radiation therapy for testicular involvement is unclear. A study from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (SJCRH) suggests that a good outcome can be achieved with aggressive conventional chemotherapy without radiation.[47] The COG has also adopted this strategy for boys with testicular involvement that resolves completely by the end of induction therapy. The COG considers patients with testicular involvement to be high risk regardless of other presenting features, but most other large clinical trial groups in the United States and Europe do not consider testicular disease to be a high-risk feature.

Down syndrome (trisomy 21)

Outcome in children with Down syndrome and ALL has generally been reported as somewhat inferior to outcomes observed in children who do not have Down syndrome.[49][50][51][52]

The lower EFS and OS of children with Down syndrome appear to be related to higher rates of treatment-related mortality and the absence of favorable biological features such as ETV6-RUNX1 or trisomies of chromosomes 4 and 10.[49][50][51][52][53] In a report from the COG, among B-precursor ALL patients who lacked MLL translocations, BCR-ABL1, ETV6-RUNX1, or trisomies of chromosomes 4 and 10, the EFS and OS were similar in children with and without Down syndrome.[53] Certain genomic abnormalities, such as IKZF1 deletions, CRLF2 aberrations, and JAK mutations are seen more frequently in ALL arising in children with Down syndrome than in those without Down syndrome.[54][55][56][57][58] In one study of Down syndrome children with ALL, the presence of IKZF1 deletions (but not CRLF2 aberrations or JAK mutations) was associated with an inferior prognosis.[58]

Gender

In some studies, the prognosis for girls with ALL is slightly better than it is for boys with ALL.[59][60][61] One reason for the better prognosis for girls is the occurrence of testicular relapses among boys, but boys also appear to be at increased risk of bone marrow and CNS relapse for reasons that are not well understood.[59][60][61] While some reports describe outcomes for boys as closely approaching those of girls,[44][62] larger clinical trial experiences and national data continue to show somewhat lower survival rates for boys.[23][24][63]

Race

Survival rates in black and Hispanic children with ALL have been somewhat lower than the rates in white children with ALL.[64][65] Asian children with ALL fare slightly better than white children.[65]

The reason for better outcomes in white and Asian children than in black and Hispanic children is at least partially explained by the different spectrum of ALL subtypes. For example, black children have a higher relative incidence of T-cell ALL and lower rates of favorable genetic subtypes of precursor B-cell ALL. Differences in outcome may also be related to treatment adherence, as illustrated by a study of adherence to oral 6-mercaptopurine in maintenance therapy. In this study, there was an increased risk of relapse in Hispanic children compared with non-Hispanic white children, depending on the level of adherence, even when adjusting for other known variables. However, at adherence rates of 90% or more, Hispanic children continued to demonstrate increased rates of relapse.[66] Ancestry-related genomic variations may also contribute to racial/ethnic disparities in both the incidence and outcome of ALL.[67] For example, the differential presence of specific host polymorphisms in different racial/ethnic groups may contribute to outcome disparities, as illustrated by the occurrence of single nucleotide polymorphisms in the ARID5B gene that occur more frequently among Hispanics and are linked to both ALL susceptibility and to relapse hazard.[68]

Leukemic cell characteristics affecting prognosis

Leukemic cell characteristics affecting prognosis include the following:

  1. Morphology.
  2. Immunophenotype.
  3. Cytogenetics/genomic alterations.

Morphology

In the past, ALL lymphoblasts were classified using the French-American-British (FAB) criteria as having L1 morphology, L2 morphology, or L3 morphology.[69] However, because of the lack of independent prognostic significance and the subjective nature of this classification system, it is no longer used.

Most cases of ALL that show L3 morphology express surface immunoglobulin (Ig) and have a C-MYC gene translocation identical to that seen in Burkitt lymphoma (i.e., t(8;14)). Patients with this specific rare form of leukemia (mature B-cell or Burkitt leukemia) should be treated according to protocols for Burkitt lymphoma. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information about the treatment of B-cell ALL and Burkitt lymphoma.)

Immunophenotype

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies ALL as either:[70]

  • B lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • T lymphoblastic leukemia.

Either B or T lymphoblastic leukemia can coexpress myeloid antigens. These cases need to be distinguished from leukemia of ambiguous lineage.

  1. Precursor B-cell ALL (WHO B lymphoblastic leukemia)

    Before 2008, the WHO classified B lymphoblastic leukemia as precursor-B lymphoblastic leukemia, and this terminology is still frequently used in the literature of childhood ALL to distinguish it from mature B-cell ALL. Mature B-cell ALL is now termed Burkitt leukemia and requires different treatment than has been given for precursor B-cell ALL. The older terminology will continue to be used throughout this summary.

    Precursor B-cell ALL, defined by the expression of cytoplasmic CD79a, CD19, HLA-DR, and other B cell-associated antigens, accounts for 80% to 85% of childhood ALL. Approximately 90% of precursor B-cell ALL cases express the CD10 surface antigen (formerly known as common ALL antigen [cALLa]). Absence of CD10 is associated with MLL translocations, particularly t(4;11), and a poor outcome.[10][71] It is not clear whether CD10-negativity has any independent prognostic significance in the absence of an MLL gene rearrangement.[72]

    The major subtypes of precursor B-cell ALL are as follows:

    • Common precursor B-cell ALL (CD10 positive and no surface or cytoplasmic Ig)

      Approximately three-quarters of patients with precursor B-cell ALL have the common precursor B-cell immunophenotype and have the best prognosis. Patients with favorable cytogenetics almost always show a common precursor B-cell immunophenotype.

    • Pro-B ALL (CD10 negative and no surface or cytoplasmic Ig)

      Approximately 5% of patients have the pro-B immunophenotype. Pro-B is the most common immunophenotype seen in infants and is often associated with MLL gene rearrangements.

    • Pre-B ALL (presence of cytoplasmic Ig)

      The leukemic cells of patients with pre-B ALL contain cytoplasmic Ig, and 25% of patients with pre-B ALL have the t(1;19) translocation with TCF3-PBX1 (also known as E2A-PBX1) fusion (see below).[73][74]

      Approximately 3% of patients have transitional pre-B ALL with expression of surface Ig heavy chain without expression of light chain, C-MYC gene involvement, or L3 morphology. Patients with this phenotype respond well to therapy used for precursor B-cell ALL.[75]

      Approximately 2% of patients present with mature B-cell leukemia (surface Ig expression, generally with FAB L3 morphology and a translocation involving the C-MYC gene), also called Burkitt leukemia. The treatment for mature B-cell ALL is based on therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is completely different from that for precursor B-cell ALL. Rare cases of mature B-cell leukemia that lack surface Ig but have L3 morphology with C-MYC gene translocations should also be treated as mature B-cell leukemia.[75] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment for more information about the treatment of children with B-cell ALL and Burkitt lymphoma.)

  2. T-cell ALL

    T-cell ALL is defined by expression of the T cell–associated antigens (cytoplasmic CD3, with CD7 plus CD2 or CD5) on leukemic blasts. T-cell ALL is frequently associated with a constellation of clinical features, including the following:[17][29][62]

    • Male gender.
    • Older age.
    • Leukocytosis.
    • Mediastinal mass.

    With appropriately intensive therapy, children with T-cell ALL have an outcome approaching that of children with B-lineage ALL.[17][29][32][33][62]

    There are few commonly accepted prognostic factors for patients with T-cell ALL. Conflicting data exist regarding the prognostic significance of presenting leukocyte counts in T-cell ALL.[6][29][30][31][32][33][34][35] The presence or absence of a mediastinal mass at diagnosis has no prognostic significance. In patients with a mediastinal mass, the rate of regression of the mass lacks prognostic significance.[76]

    Cytogenetic abnormalities common in B-lineage ALL (e.g., hyperdiploidy) are rare in T-cell ALL.[77][78]

    Multiple chromosomal translocations have been identified in T-cell ALL, with many genes encoding for transcription factors (e.g., TAL1, LMO1 and LMO2, LYL1, TLX1/HOX11, and TLX3/HOX11L2) fusing to one of the T-cell receptor loci and resulting in aberrant expression of these transcription factors in leukemia cells.[77][79][80][81][82][83] These translocations are often not apparent by examining a standard karyotype, but are identified using more sensitive screening techniques, such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR).[77] High expression of TLX1/HOX11 resulting from translocations involving this gene occurs in 5% to 10% of pediatric T-cell ALL cases and is associated with more favorable outcome in both adults and children with T-cell ALL.[79][80][81][83] Overexpression of TLX3/HOX11L2 resulting from the cryptic t(5;14)(q35;q32) translocation occurs in approximately 20% of pediatric T-cell ALL cases and appears to be associated with increased risk of treatment failure,[81] although not in all studies.

    Notch pathway signaling is commonly activated by NOTCH1 and FBXW7 gene mutations in T-cell ALL.[84]NOTCH1-activating gene mutations occur in approximately 50% of T-cell ALL cases, and FBXW7 inactivating gene mutations occur in approximately 15% of cases, with the result that approximately 60% of cases having Notch pathway activation by mutations in at least one of these genes. The prognostic significance of Notch pathway activation by NOTCH1 and FBXW7 mutations in pediatric T-cell ALL is not clear, as some studies have shown a favorable prognosis for mutated cases,[85][86][87] while other studies have not shown prognostic significance for the presence of NOTCH1 and/or FBXW7 mutations.[88][89][90]

    A NUP214–ABL1 fusion has been noted in 4% to 6% of T-cell ALL cases and is observed in both adults and children with a male predominance.[91][92][93] The fusion is cytogenetically cryptic and is seen in FISH on amplified episomes or more rarely, as a small homogeneous staining region.[93] T-cell ALL may also uncommonly show ABL1 fusion proteins with other gene partners (e.g., ETV6, BCR, and EML1).[93]ABL tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as imatinib or dasatinib, may have therapeutic benefit in this T-cell ALL subtype,[91][92][94] although clinical experience with this strategy is very limited.[95][96][97]

    Early T-cell precursor ALL

    Early T-cell precursor ALL, a distinct subset of childhood T-cell ALL, was initially defined by identifying T-cell ALL cases with gene expression profiles highly related to expression profiles for normal early T-cell precursors.[36] The subset of T-cell ALL cases, identified by these analyses represented 13% of all cases and they were characterized by a distinctive immunophenotype (CD1a and CD8 negativity, with weak expression of CD5 and coexpression of stem cell or myeloid markers). Detailed molecular characterization of early T-cell precursor ALL showed this entity to be highly heterogeneous at the molecular level, with no single gene affected by mutation or copy number alteration in more than one-third of cases.[98] Compared with other T-ALL cases, the early T-cell precursor group had a lower rate of NOTCH1 mutations and significantly higher frequencies of alterations in genes regulating cytokine receptors and Ras signaling, hematopoietic development, and histone modification. The transcriptional profile of early T-cell precursor ALL shows similarities to that of normal hematopoietic stem cells and myeloid leukemia stem cells.[98] Retrospective analyses have suggested that this subset has a poorer prognosis than other cases of T-cell ALL.[36][99][100] However, further study in larger patient cohorts is needed.

    Studies have found that the absence of biallelic deletion of the TCRgamma locus (ABGD), as detected by comparative genomic hybridization and/or quantitative DNA-PCRn, was associated with early treatment failure in patients with T-cell ALL.[101][102] ABGD is characteristic of early thymic precursor cells, and many of the T-cell ALL patients with ABGD have an immunophenotype consistent with the diagnosis of early T-cell precursor phenotype.

  3. Myeloid antigen expression

    Up to one-third of childhood ALL cases have leukemia cells that express myeloid-associated surface antigens. Myeloid-associated antigen expression appears to be associated with specific ALL subgroups, notably those with MLL translocations and those with the ETV6-RUNX1 gene rearrangement.[103][104] No independent adverse prognostic significance exists for myeloid-surface antigen expression.[103][104]

    Leukemia of ambiguous lineage

    Less than 5% of cases of acute leukemia in children are of ambiguous lineage, expressing features of both myeloid and lymphoid lineage.[105][106][107] These cases are distinct from ALL with myeloid coexpression in that the predominant lineage cannot be determined by immunophenotypic and histochemical studies. The definition of leukemia of ambiguous lineage varies among studies. However, most investigators now use criteria established by the European Group for the Immunological Characterization of Leukemias (EGIL) or the more stringent WHO criteria.[108][109][110] In the WHO classification, the presence of myeloperoxidase is required to establish myeloid lineage. This is not the case for the EGIL classification.

    Leukemias of mixed phenotype comprise the following two groups:[105]

    • Bilineal leukemias in which there are two distinct populations of cells, usually one lymphoid and one myeloid.
    • Biphenotypic leukemias in which individual blast cells display features of both lymphoid and myeloid lineage. Biphenotypic cases represent the majority of mixed phenotype leukemias.[105] Patients with B-myeloid biphenotypic leukemias lacking the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion have a lower rate of complete remission and a significantly worse EFS than do patients with B-precursor ALL. Some studies suggest that patients with biphenotypic leukemia may fare better with a lymphoid, as opposed to a myeloid, treatment regimen,[106][107][111] although the optimal treatment for patients remains unclear.

Cytogenetics/genomic alterations

A number of recurrent chromosomal abnormalities have been shown to have prognostic significance, especially in B-precursor ALL. Some chromosomal abnormalities are associated with more favorable outcomes, such as high hyperdiploidy (51–65 chromosomes) and the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion. Others are associated with a poorer prognosis, including the Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22)), rearrangements of the MLL gene (chromosome 11q23), and intrachromosomal amplification of the AML1 gene (iAMP21).[112]

Prognostically significant chromosomal abnormalities in childhood ALL include the following:

  1. Chromosome number
    • High hyperdiploidy

      High hyperdiploidy, defined as 51 to 65 chromosomes per cell or a DNA index greater than 1.16, occurs in 20% to 25% of cases of precursor B-cell ALL, but very rarely in cases of T-cell ALL.[113] Hyperdiploidy can be evaluated by measuring the DNA content of cells (DNA index) or by karyotyping. In cases with a normal karyotype or in which standard cytogenetic analysis was unsuccessful, interphase FISH may detect hidden hyperdiploidy. High hyperdiploidy generally occurs in cases with clinically favorable prognostic factors (patients aged 1 to <10 years with a low WBC count) and is itself an independent favorable prognostic factor.[19][113][114] Within the hyperdiploid range of 51 to 66 chromosomes, patients with higher modal numbers (58–66) appeared to have a better prognosis in one study.[19] Hyperdiploid leukemia cells are particularly susceptible to undergoing apoptosis and accumulate higher levels of methotrexate and its active polyglutamate metabolites,[115] which may explain the favorable outcome commonly observed in these cases.

      While the overall outcome of patients with high hyperdiploidy is considered to be favorable, factors such as age, WBC count, specific trisomies, and early response to treatment have been shown to modify its prognostic significance.[116]

      Patients with trisomies of chromosomes 4, 10, and 17 (triple trisomies) have been shown to have a particularly favorable outcome as demonstrated by both Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) and Children's Cancer Group (CCG) analyses of NCI standard-risk ALL.[117] POG data suggest that NCI standard-risk patients with trisomies of 4 and 10, without regard to chromosome 17 status, have an excellent prognosis.[118]

      Chromosomal translocations may be seen with high hyperdiploidy, and in those cases, patients are more appropriately risk-classified based on the prognostic significance of the translocation. For instance, in one study, 8% of patients with the Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22)) also had high hyperdiploidy,[119] and the outcome of these patients (treated without tyrosine kinase inhibitors) was inferior to that observed in non-Philadelphia chromosome–positive (Ph+) high hyperdiploid patients.

      Certain patients with hyperdiploid ALL may have a hypodiploid clone that has doubled (masked hypodiploidy).[120] These cases may be interpretable based on the pattern of gains and losses of specific chromosomes. These patients have an unfavorable outcome, similar to those with hypodiploidy.[120]

      Near triploidy (68–80 chromosomes) and near tetraploidy (>80 chromosomes) are much less common and appear to be biologically distinct from high hyperdiploidy.[121] Unlike high hyperdiploidy, a high proportion of near tetraploid cases harbor a cryptic ETV6-RUNX1 fusion.[121][122][123] Near triploidy and tetraploidy were previously thought to be associated with an unfavorable prognosis, but later studies suggest that this may not be the case.[121][123]

    • Hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes)

      Precursor B-cell ALL cases with fewer than the normal number of chromosomes have been subdivided in various ways, with one report stratifying based on modal chromosome number into the following four groups:[120]

      • Near-haploid: 24 to 29 chromosomes (n = 46).
      • Low-hypodiploid: 33 to 39 chromosomes (n = 26).
      • High-hypodiploid: 40 to 43 chromosomes (n = 13).
      • Near-diploid: 44 chromosomes (n = 54).

      Most patients with hypodiploidy are in the near-haploid and low-hypodiploid groups, and both of these groups have an elevated risk of treatment failure compared with nonhypodiploid cases.[120][124] Patients with fewer than 44 chromosomes have a worse outcome than do patients with 44 or 45 chromosomes in their leukemic cells.[120]

      The recurring genomic alterations of near-haploid and low-hypodiploid ALL appear to be distinctive from each other and from other types of ALL.[125] In near-haploid ALL, alterations targeting receptor tyrosine kinase signaling, Ras signaling, and IKZF3 are common. In low-hypodiploid ALL, genetic alterations involving TP53, RB1, and IKZF2 are common. Importantly, the TP53 alterations observed in low-hypodiploid ALL are also present in nontumor cells in approximately 40% of cases, suggesting that these mutations are germline and that low-hypodiploid ALL represents, in some cases, a manifestation of Li-Fraumeni syndrome.[125]

  2. Chromosomal translocations
    • ETV6-RUNX1 (t(12;21) cryptic translocation, formerly known as TEL-AML1)

      Fusion of the ETV6 gene on chromosome 12 to the RUNX1 gene on chromosome 21 can be detected in 20% to 25% of cases of B-precursor ALL but is rarely observed in T-cell ALL.[122] The t(12;21) occurs most commonly in children aged 2 to 9 years.[126][127] Hispanic children with ALL have a lower incidence of t(12;21) than do white children.[128]

      Reports generally indicate favorable EFS and OS in children with the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion; however, the prognostic impact of this genetic feature is modified by the following factors: [129][130][131][132]

      • Early response to treatment.
      • NCI risk category (age and WBC count at diagnosis).
      • Treatment regimen.

      In one study of the treatment of newly diagnosed children with ALL, multivariate analysis of prognostic factors found age and leukocyte count, but not ETV6-RUNX1, to be independent prognostic factors.[129] There is a higher frequency of late relapses in patients with ETV6-RUNX1 fusion compared with other B-precursor ALL.[129][133] Patients with the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion who relapse seem to have a better outcome than other relapse patients,[134] with an especially favorable prognosis for patients who relapse more than 36 months from diagnosis.[135] Some relapses in patients with t(12;21) may represent a new independent second hit in a persistent preleukemic clone (with the first hit being the ETV6-RUNX1 translocation).[136][137]

    • Philadelphia chromosome (t(9;22) translocation)

      The Philadelphia chromosome t(9;22) is present in approximately 3% of children with ALL and leads to production of a BCR-ABL1 fusion protein with tyrosine kinase activity (see Figure 2).

      Philadelphia chromosome; three-panel drawing shows a piece of chromosome 9 and a piece of chromosome 22 breaking off and trading places, creating a changed chromosome 22 called the Philadelphia chromosome. In the left panel, the drawing shows a normal chromosome 9 with the abl gene and a normal chromosome 22 with the bcr gene. In the center panel, the drawing shows chromosome 9 breaking apart in the abl gene and chromosome 22 breaking apart below the bcr gene. In the right panel, the drawing shows chromosome 9 with the piece from chromosome 22 attached and chromosome 22 with the piece from chromosome 9 containing part of the abl gene attached. The changed chromosome 22 with bcr-abl gene is called the Philadelphia chromosome.
      Figure 2. The Philadelphia chromosome is a translocation between the ABL-1 oncogene (on the long arm of chromosome 9) and the breakpoint cluster region (BCR) (on the long arm of chromosome 22), resulting in the fusion gene BCR-ABL. BCR-ABL encodes an oncogenic protein with tyrosine kinase activity.

      This subtype of ALL is more common in older children with precursor B-cell ALL and high WBC count.

      Historically, the Philadelphia chromosome t(9;22) was associated with an extremely poor prognosis (especially in those who presented with a high WBC count or had a slow early response to initial therapy), and its presence had been considered an indication for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in patients in first remission.[119][138][139][140] Inhibitors of the BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase, such as imatinib mesylate, are effective in patients with Ph+ ALL.[141] A study by the COG, which used intensive chemotherapy and concurrent imatinib mesylate given daily, demonstrated a 3-year EFS rate of 80.5%, which was superior to the EFS rate of historical controls in the pre-tyrosine kinase inhibitor (imatinib mesylate) era.[141][142] Longer follow-up is necessary to determine whether this treatment improves the cure rate or merely prolongs DFS.

    • MLL translocations

      Translocations involving the MLL (11q23) gene occur in up to 5% of childhood ALL cases and are generally associated with an increased risk of treatment failure.[71][143][144][145] The t(4;11) translocation is the most common translocation involving the MLL gene in children with ALL and occurs in approximately 2% of cases.[143]

      Patients with the t(4;11) translocation are usually infants with high WBC counts; they are more likely than other children with ALL to have CNS disease and to have a poor response to initial therapy.[10] While both infants and adults with the t(4;11) translocation are at high risk of treatment failure, children with the t(4;11) translocation appear to have a better outcome than either infants or adults.[71][143] Irrespective of the type of MLL gene rearrangement, infants with leukemia cells that have MLL gene rearrangements have a worse treatment outcome than older patients whose leukemia cells have an MLL gene rearrangement.[71][143] Deletion of the MLL gene has not been associated with an adverse prognosis.[146]

      Of interest, the t(11;19) translocation involving MLL and MLLT1/ENL occurs in approximately 1% of ALL cases and occurs in both early B-lineage and T-cell ALL.[147] Outcome for infants with the t(11;19) translocation is poor, but outcome appears relatively favorable in older children with T-cell ALL and the t(11;19) translocation.[147]

    • TCF3-PBX1 (E2A-PBX1; t(1;19) translocation)

      The t(1;19) translocation occurs in approximately 5% of childhood ALL cases and involves fusion of the E2A gene on chromosome 19 to the PBX1 gene on chromosome 1.[73][74] The t(1;19) translocation may occur as either a balanced translocation or as an unbalanced translocation and is primarily associated with pre-B ALL immunophenotype (cytoplasmic Ig positive). Black children are more likely than white children to have pre-B ALL with the t(1;19).[148]

      The t(1;19) translocation had been associated with inferior outcome in the context of antimetabolite-based therapy,[149] but the adverse prognostic significance was largely negated by more aggressive multiagent therapies.[74][150] However, in a trial conducted by SJCRH on which all patients were treated without cranial radiation, patients with the t(1;19) translocation had an overall outcome comparable to children lacking this translocation, with a higher risk of CNS relapse and a lower rate of bone marrow relapse, suggesting that more intensive CNS therapy may be needed for these patients.[44][151]

  3. Other genomic alterations

    Numerous new genetic lesions have been discovered by various array comparative hybridization and next-generation sequencing methods. Appreciation of these submicroscopic genomic abnormalities and mutations is redefining the subclassification of ALL:[152][153][154][155][156][157][158]

    • Intrachromosomal amplification of chromosome 21 (iAMP21): iAMP21 with multiple extra copies of the RUNX1 (AML1) gene occurs in 1% to 2% of precursor B-cell ALL cases and may be associated with an inferior outcome.[112][159][160]
    • IKZF1 deletions:IKZF1 deletions, including deletions of the entire gene and deletions of specific exons, are present in approximately 15% of precursor B-cell ALL cases. Cases with IKZF1 deletions tend to occur in older children, have a higher WBC count at diagnosis, and are therefore, more common among NCI high-risk patients compared with NCI standard-risk patients.[161][162] A high proportion of BCR-ABL1 cases have a deletion of IKZF1,[162][163] and ALL arising in children with Down syndrome appears to have elevated rates of IKZF1 deletions.[58]IKZF1 deletions are also common in cases with CRLF2 genomic alterations and in Philadelphia chromosome–like (Ph-like) ALL (see below).[152][162][164]

      Multiple reports have documented the adverse prognostic significance of a IKZF1 deletion; there are differences between studies in the magnitude of effect and in whether the IKZF1 deletion maintains significance when other prognostic factors are considered using multivariate analysis.[152][162][164][165][166][167]

    • CRLF2 and JAK mutations: Genomic alterations in CRLF2, a cytokine receptor gene located on the pseudoautosomal regions of the sex chromosomes, have been identified in 5% to 10% of cases of B-precursor ALL.[168][169] The chromosomal abnormalities that commonly lead to CRLF2 overexpression include translocations of the IgH locus (chromosome 14) to CRLF2 and interstitial deletions in pseudoautosomal regions of the sex chromosomes, resulting in a P2RY8-CRLF2 fusion.[168][169][170][171]CRLF2 abnormalities are strongly associated with the presence of IKZF1 deletions and JAK mutations;[54][162][169][170][171] they are also more common in children with Down syndrome.[169] The results of several retrospective studies suggest that CRLF2 abnormalities may have adverse prognostic significance, although studies differ on whether CRLF2 maintains significance when other prognostic factors are considered using multivariate analysis.[155][168][169][170][172] However, point mutations within kinase genes are uncommon among Ph-like cases, except for JAK1 and JAK2.[171] Additionally, there is controversy about whether prognosis should be analyzed based on CRLF2 overexpression or on the presence of CRLF2 genomic alterations.[155][172]
    • Ph-like ALL:BCR-ABL1–negative patients with a gene expression profile similar to BCR-ABL1–positive patients have been referred to as Ph-like ALL.[164][165] This occurs in 10% to 15% of pediatric ALL patients, increasing in frequency with age, and is associated with a poor prognosis and with IKZF1 deletion/mutation.[157][164][165][171] The hallmark of this entity is activated kinase signaling, with 50% containing CRLF2 genomic alterations [170] and 25% concomitant JAK mutations.[54] Many of the remaining cases have been noted to have a series of translocations with a common theme of involvement of either ABL1, JAK2, PDGFRB, or EPOR.[157] Fusion proteins from these gene combinations have been noted in some cases to be transformative and have responded to tyrosine kinase inhibitors both in vitro and in vivo,[157] suggesting potential therapeutic strategies for these patients. Point mutations in kinase genes, aside from those in JAK1 and JAK2, are uncommon in Ph-like ALL cases.[171]
  4. Gene polymorphisms in drug metabolic pathways

    A number of polymorphisms of genes involved in the metabolism of chemotherapeutic agents have been reported to have prognostic significance in childhood ALL.[173][174][175] For example, patients with mutant phenotypes of thiopurine methyltransferase (a gene involved in the metabolism of thiopurines, such as 6-mercaptopurine), appear to have more favorable outcomes,[176] although such patients may also be at higher risk of developing significant treatment-related toxicities, including myelosuppression and infection.[177][178]

    Genome-wide polymorphism analysis has identified specific single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with high end-induction minimal residual disease (MRD) and risk of relapse. Polymorphisms of IL-15, as well as genes associated with the metabolism of etoposide and methotrexate, were significantly associated with treatment response in two large cohorts of ALL patients treated on SJCRH and COG protocols.[179] Polymorphic variants involving the reduced folate carrier have been linked to methotrexate metabolism, toxicity, and outcome.[180] While these associations suggest that individual variations in drug metabolism can affect outcome, few studies have attempted to adjust for these variations; whether individualized dose modification based on these findings will improve outcome is unknown.

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,[181] 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.[182]

Multiple studies have demonstrated that end-induction MRD is an important, independent predictor of outcome in children and adolescents with B-lineage ALL.[130][183][184][185] MRD response discriminates outcome in subsets of patients defined by age, leukocyte count, and cytogenetic abnormalities.[186] Patients with higher levels of end-induction MRD have a poorer prognosis than those with lower or undetectable levels.[130][182][183][184][187] 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][182][184][186][187][188][189][190][191]

MRD measurements, in conjunction with other presenting features, have also been used to identify subsets of patients with an extremely low risk of relapse. The COG reported a very favorable prognosis (5-year EFS of 97% ± 1%) for patients with B-precursor phenotype, NCI standard risk age/leukocyte count, CNS1 status, and favorable cytogenetic abnormalities (either high hyperdiploidy with favorable trisomies or the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion) who had less than 0.01% MRD levels at both day 8 (from peripheral blood) and end-induction (from bone marrow).[130]

There are fewer studies documenting the prognostic significance of MRD in T-cell ALL. In the AIEOP-BFM ALL 2000 trial, MRD status at day 78 (week 12) was the most important predictor for relapse in patients with T-cell ALL. Patients with detectable MRD at end-induction who had negative MRD by day 78 did just as well as patients who achieved MRD-negativity at the earlier end-induction time point. Thus, unlike in B-cell precursor ALL, end-induction MRD levels were irrelevant in those patients whose MRD was negative at day 78. A high MRD level at day 78 was associated with a significantly higher risk of relapse.[191]

There are few studies of MRD in the CSF. In one study, MRD was documented in about one-half of children at diagnosis.[192] In this study, CSF MRD was not found to be prognostic when intensive chemotherapy was given.

Although MRD is the most important prognostic factor in determining outcome, there are no data to conclusively show that modifying therapy based on MRD determination significantly improves outcome in newly diagnosed ALL.[186] However, the UKALL 2003 study demonstrated that reduction of therapy (i.e., one rather than two courses of delayed intensification) did not adversely impact outcome in non-high–risk patients with favorable end-induction MRD.[193][Level of evidence: 1iiDii]

Day 7 and day 14 bone marrow responses

Patients who have a rapid reduction in leukemia cells to less than 5% in their bone marrow within 7 or 14 days after the initiation of multiagent chemotherapy have a more favorable prognosis than do patients who have slower clearance of leukemia cells from the bone marrow.[194] MRD assessments at the end of induction therapy have generally replaced day 7 and day 14 morphological assessments as response to therapy prognostic indicators because the latter lose their prognostic significance in multivariate analysis once MRD is included in the analyses.[130][195]

Peripheral blood response to steroid prophase

Patients with a reduction in peripheral blast count to less than 1,000/µL after a 7-day induction prophase with prednisone and one dose of intrathecal methotrexate (a good prednisone response) have a more favorable prognosis than do patients whose peripheral blast counts remain above 1,000/µL (a poor prednisone response).[17] Poor prednisone response is observed in fewer than 10% of patients.[17][196] Treatment stratification for protocols of the Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (BFM) clinical trials group is partially based on early response to the 7-day prednisone prophase (administered immediately before the initiation of multiagent remission induction).

Peripheral blood response to multiagent induction therapy

Patients with persistent circulating leukemia cells at 7 to 10 days after the initiation of multiagent chemotherapy are at increased risk of relapse compared with patients who have clearance of peripheral blasts within 1 week of therapy initiation.[197] Rate of clearance of peripheral blasts has been found to be of prognostic significance in both T-cell and B-lineage ALL.[197]

Peripheral blood MRD before end of induction (day 8, day 15)

MRD using peripheral blood obtained 1 week after the initiation of multiagent induction chemotherapy has also been evaluated as an early response-to-therapy prognostic factor. In a COG study involving nearly 2,000 children with ALL, the presence of MRD in the peripheral blood at day 8 was associated with adverse prognosis, with increasing MRD levels being associated with a progressively poorer outcome.[130] In multivariate analysis, end of induction therapy MRD was the most powerful prognostic factor, but day 8 peripheral blood MRD maintained its prognostic significance, as did NCI risk group and the presence of favorable trisomies. A smaller study assessed the prognostic significance of peripheral blood MRD at day 15 after 1 week of a steroid prophase and 1 week of multiagent induction therapy.[198] This study also observed multivariate significance for peripheral blood MRD levels after 1 week of multiagent induction therapy. Both studies identified a group of patients who achieved low MRD levels after 1 week of multiagent induction therapy who had a low rate of subsequent treatment failure.

Induction failure

The vast majority of children with ALL achieve complete morphologic remission by the end of the first month of treatment. The presence of greater than 5% lymphoblasts at the end of the induction phase is observed in up to 5% of children with ALL.[199] Patients at highest risk of induction failure have one or more of the following features:[200][201]

  • T-cell phenotype (especially without a mediastinal mass).
  • B-precursor ALL with very high presenting leukocyte counts.
  • 11q23 rearrangement.
  • Older age.
  • Philadelphia chromosome.

In a large retrospective study, the OS of patients with induction failure was only 32%.[199] However, there was significant clinical and biological heterogeneity. A relatively favorable outcome was observed in patients with B-precursor ALL between the ages of 1 and 5 years without adverse cytogenetics (MLL translocation or BCR-ABL). This group had a 10-year survival exceeding 50%, and HSCT in first remission was not associated with a survival advantage compared with chemotherapy alone for this subset. Patients with the poorest outcomes (<20% 10-year survival) included those who were aged 14 to 18 years, or who had the Philadelphia chromosome or MLL rearrangement. B-cell ALL patients younger than 6 years and T-cell ALL patients (regardless of age) appeared to have better outcomes if treated with allogeneic HSCT after achieving complete remission than those who received further treatment with chemotherapy alone.

Prognostic (Risk) Groups

For decades, clinical trial groups studying childhood ALL have utilized risk classification schemes to assign patients to therapeutic regimens based on their estimated risk of treatment failure. Initial risk classification systems utilized clinical factors such as age and presenting WBC count. Response to therapy measures were subsequently added, with some groups utilizing early morphologic bone marrow response (e.g., at day 8 or day 15) and with other groups utilizing response of circulating leukemia cells to single agent prednisone. Modern risk classification systems continue to utilize clinical factors such as age and presenting WBC count, and in addition, incorporate molecular characteristics of leukemia cells at diagnosis (e.g., favorable and unfavorable translocations) and response to therapy based on detection of MRD at end of induction (and in some cases at later time points). The risk classification systems of the COG and the BFM groups are briefly described below.

Children’s Oncology Group (COG) risk groups

In COG protocols, children with ALL are initially stratified into treatment groups (with varying degrees of risk of treatment failure) based on a subset of prognostic factors, including the following:

  • Age.
  • WBC count at diagnosis.
  • Immunophenotype.
  • Cytogenetics/genomic alterations.
  • Presence of extramedullary disease.
  • Down syndrome.
  • Steroid pretreatment.

EFS rates exceed 85% in children meeting good-risk criteria (aged 1 to <10 years, WBC count <50,000/μL, and precursor B-cell immunophenotype); in children meeting high-risk criteria, EFS rates are approximately 75%.[3][44][196][202][203] Additional factors, including cytogenetic abnormalities and measures of early response to therapy (e.g., day 7 and/or day 14 marrow blast percentage for patients with Down syndrome and MRD levels in peripheral blood on day 8 and in bone marrow samples at the end of induction), considered in conjunction with presenting age, WBC count, immunophenotype, the presence of extramedullary disease, and steroid pretreatment can identify patient groups for postinduction therapy with expected EFS rates ranging from less than 40% to more than 95%.[3][130]

Patients who are at very high risk of treatment failure include the following: [9][204][205][206]

  • Infants with MLL translocations.
  • Patients with hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes).
  • Patients with initial induction failure.

Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (BFM) risk groups

Since 2000, risk stratification on BFM protocols has been based almost solely on treatment response criteria. In addition to prednisone prophase response, treatment response is assessed via MRD measurements at two time points, end induction (week 5) and end consolidation (week 12).

The BFM risk groups include the following:[186]

  • Standard risk: Patients who are MRD-negative (i.e., <10-4) at both time points are classified as standard risk.
  • Intermediate risk: Patients who have positive MRD at week 5 and low MRD (<10-3) at week 12 are considered intermediate risk.
  • High risk: Patients with high MRD (≥10-3) at week 12 are high risk. Patients with a poor response to the prednisone prophase are also considered high risk, regardless of subsequent MRD.

Phenotype, leukemic cell mass estimate, also known as BFM risk factor, and CNS status at diagnosis do not factor into the current risk classification schema. However, patients with either the t(9;22) or the t(4;11) are considered high risk, regardless of early response measures.

Prognostic (risk) groups under clinical evaluation

COG AALL08B1(Classification of Newly Diagnosed ALL): COG protocol AALL08B1 stratifies four risk groups for patients with B-precursor ALL (low risk, average risk, high risk, and very high risk) based on the following criteria:

  • Age and presenting leukocyte count (using NCI risk-group criteria).[1]
  • Extramedullary disease (presence or absence of CNS and/or testicular leukemia).
  • Genomic alterations in leukemia cells.
  • Day 8 peripheral blood MRD.
  • Day 29 bone marrow morphologic response and MRD.
  • Down syndrome.
  • Steroid pretreatment.

Morphologic assessment of early response in the bone marrow is no longer performed on days 8 and 15 of induction as part of risk stratification. Patients with T-cell phenotype are treated on a separate study and are not risk classified in this way.

For patients with B-precursor ALL:

  • Favorable genetics are defined as the presence of either hyperdiploidy with trisomies of chromosomes 4 and 10 (double trisomy) or the ETV6-RUNX1 fusion.
  • Unfavorable characteristics are defined as CNS3 status at diagnosis, induction failure (M3 marrow at day 29), age 13 years and older, and the following unfavorable genomic alterations: hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes or DNA index <0.81), MLL rearrangement, and iAMP21. The presence of any of these unfavorable characteristics is sufficient to classify a patient as very high risk, regardless of other presenting features. Infants and children with BCR-ABL (Ph+ ALL) are treated on a separate clinical trial.
  • MRD levels at day 8 from peripheral blood and at day 29 from bone marrow are used in risk classification.

The four risk groups for B-precursor ALL are defined in Table 1.

Table 1. Risk Groups for B-Precursor Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemiaa

Low Risk

Average Risk

High Risk

Very High Risk

NCI Risk (Age/WBC)

SR

SR

SR

SR

SR

HR (age <13 y)

SR

HR

HR (age ≥13 y)

SR or HR

Favorable Genetics

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Any

No

Any

Any

Any

Unfavorable Characteristics

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

None

Yes

Day 8 PB MRD

<0.01%

≥0.01%

<1%

Any Level

≥1%

Any Level

Any Level

Any Level

Any Level

Any Level

Day 29 Marrow MRD

<0.01%

<0.01%

<0.01%

≥0.01%

<0.01%

<0.01%

≥0.01%

≥0.01%

<0.01%

Any Level

% of Patients (Estimated)

15%

36%

25%

24%

Anticipated 5-year EFS

>95%

90%–95%

88%–90%

<80%

EFS = event-free survival; HR = age and WBC count risk group is high risk; MRD = minimal residual disease; NCI = National Cancer Institute; PB = peripheral blood; SR = age/WBC count risk group is standard risk; WBC = white blood cell.

aFrom the Children's Oncology Group Classification of Newly Diagnosed ALL protocol.

AALL0434 (NCT00408005) (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): For patients with T-cell ALL, COG uses the following criteria to assign risk category:

Low risk

  • NCI standard risk by age (1.00–9.99 years) and WBC count (initial ≤50,000/μL).
  • M1 marrow on day 15 and M1 marrow with MRD <0.1% on day 29.
  • CNS1 status and no testicular disease at diagnosis.

Intermediate risk

  • Doesn’t meet criteria for low risk.
  • M1 marrow with MRD <1% on day 29.
  • Any CNS status.

High risk

  • M2 marrow and/or MRD ≥1% on day 29.
  • Any CNS status.

DFCI-11-001 (NCT01574274) (SC-PEG Asparaginase vs. Oncaspar in Pediatric ALL and Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): On the current clinical trial conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium, patients with B-precursor ALL are initially classified as either standard risk or high risk based on age, presenting leukocyte count, and the presence or absence of CNS disease (CNS3). At the completion of a five-drug remission induction regimen (4 weeks from diagnosis), the level of MRD is determined via PCR assay. Patients with high MRD (≥0.001) are classified as very high risk and receive a more intensive postremission consolidation. Patients with low MRD (<0.001) continue to receive treatment based on their initial risk group classification. The goal of this new classification schema is to determine whether intensification of therapy will improve the outcome of patients with high MRD at the end of remission induction. Patients with T-cell ALL are treated as high risk, regardless of MRD status. All patients with MLL translocations or hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes) are classified as very high risk, regardless of MRD status or phenotype. Ph+ patients are removed from study midinduction and are eligible to enroll on the COG protocol for patients with Ph+ ALL.

SJCRH (Total XVI): Patients are classified into one of three categories (low, standard, or high risk) based on the presenting age, leukocyte count, presence or absence of CNS3 status or testicular leukemia, immunophenotype, cytogenetics and molecular genetics, DNA index, and early response to therapy. Hence, definitive risk assignment (for provisional low-risk or standard-risk cases based on presenting features) will be made after completion of remission induction therapy. The criteria and the estimated proportion of patients in each category (based on data from TOTXV study) are provided below.

Criteria for low-risk ALL (approximately 48% of patients)

  • B-cell precursor ALL with DNA index ≥1.16, ETV6-RUNX1 fusion, or age 1 to 9.9 years and presenting WBC <50 × 109/L.
  • Must not have:
    • CNS3 status (≥5 WBC/µl of CSF with morphologically identifiable blasts or cranial nerve palsy).
    • Overt testicular leukemia (evidenced by ultrasonogram).
    • Adverse genetic features—t(9;22) or BCR-ABL1 fusion; t(1;19) with E2A-PBX1 fusion; rearranged MLL (as measured by FISH and/or PCR); or hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes).
    • Poor early response (≥1% lymphoblasts on day 15 of remission induction, ≥0.01% lymphoblasts by immunologic or molecular methods on remission date).

Criteria for standard-risk ALL (approximately 44% of patients)

  • All cases of T-cell ALL and those of B-cell precursor ALL that do not meet the criteria for low-risk or high-risk ALL.

Criteria for high-risk ALL (approximately 8% of patients)

  • t(9;22) or BCR-ABL fusion.
  • Infants with t(4;11) or MLL fusion.
  • Induction failure or >1% leukemia lymphoblasts in the bone marrow on remission date.
  • >0.1% leukemic lymphoblasts in the bone marrow in week 7 of continuation treatment (i.e., before reinduction 1, about 14 weeks postremission induction).
  • Re-emergence of leukemic lymphoblasts by MRD (at any level) in patients previously MRD negative.
  • Persistently detectable MRD at lower levels.
  • Early T-cell precursor ALL, defined by low expression of T-cell markers together with aberrant expression of myeloid markers.[36] The following features characterize early T-cell precursor ALL:
    • Levels of CD5 expression at least tenfold lower than that of normal peripheral blood T-lymphocytes. In the study that identified this subset of T-cell ALL, CD5 expression was tenfold to more than 200-fold lower than that of normal lymphocytes and median percentage of leukemic cells expressing CD5 in the 17 atypical cases was 45%; in contrast to more than 98% for the 122 cases in the typical group.
    • Absence (<10%) of CD1a and CD8 expression.
    • Expression of cytoplasmic CD3 together with the expression of one or more markers associated with myeloid leukemia such as HLA-Dr, CD34, CD13, CD33, or CD11b, while myeloperoxidase is less than 3% by cytochemistry and/or flow cytometry.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

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  186. Conter V, Bartram CR, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Molecular response to treatment redefines all prognostic factors in children and adolescents with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results in 3184 patients of the AIEOP-BFM ALL 2000 study. Blood 115 (16): 3206-14, 2010.

  187. Stow P, Key L, Chen X, et al.: Clinical significance of low levels of minimal residual disease at the end of remission induction therapy in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 115 (23): 4657-63, 2010.

  188. Basso G, Veltroni M, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Risk of relapse of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is predicted by flow cytometric measurement of residual disease on day 15 bone marrow. J Clin Oncol 27 (31): 5168-74, 2009.

  189. Panzer-Grümayer ER, Schneider M, Panzer S, et al.: Rapid molecular response during early induction chemotherapy predicts a good outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 95 (3): 790-4, 2000.

  190. Coustan-Smith E, Sancho J, Behm FG, et al.: Prognostic importance of measuring early clearance of leukemic cells by flow cytometry in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 100 (1): 52-8, 2002.

  191. Schrappe M, Valsecchi MG, Bartram CR, et al.: Late MRD response determines relapse risk overall and in subsets of childhood T-cell ALL: results of the AIEOP-BFM-ALL 2000 study. Blood 118 (8): 2077-84, 2011.

  192. Biojone E, Queiróz Rde P, Valera ET, et al.: Minimal residual disease in cerebrospinal fluid at diagnosis: a more intensive treatment protocol was able to eliminate the adverse prognosis in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Leuk Lymphoma 53 (1): 89-95, 2012.

  193. Vora A, Goulden N, Wade R, et al.: Treatment reduction for children and young adults with low-risk acute lymphoblastic leukaemia defined by minimal residual disease (UKALL 2003): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet Oncol 14 (3): 199-209, 2013.

  194. Gaynon PS, Desai AA, Bostrom BC, et al.: Early response to therapy and outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a review. Cancer 80 (9): 1717-26, 1997.

  195. Borowitz MJ, Wood BL, Devidas M, et al.: Assessment of end induction minimal residual disease (MRD) in childhood B precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to eliminate the need for day 14 marrow examination: A Children’s Oncology Group study. [Abstract] J Clin Oncol 31 (Suppl 15): A-10001, 2013. Also available online. Last accessed November 26, 2013.

  196. Möricke A, Reiter A, Zimmermann M, et al.: Risk-adjusted therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can decrease treatment burden and improve survival: treatment results of 2169 unselected pediatric and adolescent patients enrolled in the trial ALL-BFM 95. Blood 111 (9): 4477-89, 2008.

  197. Griffin TC, Shuster JJ, Buchanan GR, et al.: Slow disappearance of peripheral blood blasts is an adverse prognostic factor in childhood T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a Pediatric Oncology Group study. Leukemia 14 (5): 792-5, 2000.

  198. Volejnikova J, Mejstrikova E, Valova T, et al.: Minimal residual disease in peripheral blood at day 15 identifies a subgroup of childhood B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia with superior prognosis. Haematologica 96 (12): 1815-21, 2011.

  199. Schrappe M, Hunger SP, Pui CH, et al.: Outcomes after induction failure in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 366 (15): 1371-81, 2012.

  200. Silverman LB, Gelber RD, Young ML, et al.: Induction failure in acute lymphoblastic leukemia of childhood. Cancer 85 (6): 1395-404, 1999.

  201. Oudot C, Auclerc MF, Levy V, et al.: Prognostic factors for leukemic induction failure in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and outcome after salvage therapy: the FRALLE 93 study. J Clin Oncol 26 (9): 1496-503, 2008.

  202. Moghrabi A, Levy DE, Asselin B, et al.: Results of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01 for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 109 (3): 896-904, 2007.

  203. Veerman AJ, Kamps WA, van den Berg H, et al.: Dexamethasone-based therapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the prospective Dutch Childhood Oncology Group (DCOG) protocol ALL-9 (1997-2004). Lancet Oncol 10 (10): 957-66, 2009.

  204. Balduzzi A, Valsecchi MG, Uderzo C, et al.: Chemotherapy versus allogeneic transplantation for very-high-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in first complete remission: comparison by genetic randomisation in an international prospective study. Lancet 366 (9486): 635-42, 2005 Aug 20-26.

  205. Schrauder A, Reiter A, Gadner H, et al.: Superiority of allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation compared with chemotherapy alone in high-risk childhood T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results from ALL-BFM 90 and 95. J Clin Oncol 24 (36): 5742-9, 2006.

  206. Ribera JM, Ortega JJ, Oriol A, et al.: Comparison of intensive chemotherapy, allogeneic, or autologous stem-cell transplantation as postremission treatment for children with very high risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: PETHEMA ALL-93 Trial. J Clin Oncol 25 (1): 16-24, 2007.

Treatment Option Overview for Childhood ALL

Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) should be cared for at a center with specialized expertise in pediatric cancer.[1] Treatment planning by a multidisciplinary team of pediatric cancer specialists with experience and expertise in treating leukemias of childhood is required to determine and implement optimum treatment.

Treatment of childhood ALL typically involves chemotherapy given for 2 to 3 years. Since myelosuppression and generalized immunosuppression are anticipated consequences of leukemia and chemotherapy treatment, patients must be closely monitored at diagnosis and during treatment.

Adequate facilities must be immediately available both for hematologic support and for the treatment of infections and other complications throughout all phases of therapy. Approximately 1% to 3% of patients die during induction therapy and another 1% to 3% die during the initial remission from treatment-related complications.[2][3]

Clinical trials are generally available for children with ALL, with specific protocols designed for children at standard (low) risk of treatment failure and for children at higher risk of treatment failure. Clinical trials for children with ALL are generally designed to compare therapy that is currently accepted as standard for a particular risk group with a potentially better treatment approach that may improve survival outcome and/or diminish toxicities associated with the standard treatment regimen. Many of the therapeutic innovations that produced increased survival rates in children with ALL were established through clinical trials, and it is appropriate for children and adolescents with ALL to be offered participation in a clinical trial.

Risk-based treatment assignment is an important therapeutic strategy utilized for children with ALL. This approach allows children who historically have a very good outcome to be treated with less intensive therapy and to be spared more toxic treatments, while allowing children with a historically lower probability of long-term survival to receive stronger therapy that may increase their chance of cure. (Refer to the Risk-based Treatment Assignment section of this summary for more information about a number of clinical and laboratory features that have demonstrated prognostic value.)

Phases of Therapy

Treatment for children with ALL is typically divided as follows:

  1. Remission induction (at the time of diagnosis).
  2. Postinduction therapy (after achieving complete remission).
    • Consolidation/intensification therapy.
    • Maintenance or continuation therapy.

Sanctuary Sites

Historically, certain extramedullary sites have been considered sanctuary sites (i.e., anatomic spaces that are poorly penetrated by many of the systemically administered chemotherapy agents typically used to treat ALL). The two most important sanctuary sites in childhood ALL are the central nervous system (CNS) and the testes. Successful treatment of ALL requires therapy that effectively addresses clinical or subclinical involvement of leukemia in these extramedullary sanctuary sites.

Central nervous system (CNS)

Approximately 3% of patients have detectable CNS involvement by conventional criteria at diagnosis (cerebrospinal fluid specimen with ≥5 WBC/μL with lymphoblasts and/or the presence of cranial nerve palsies). However, unless specific therapy is directed toward the CNS, the majority of children will eventually develop overt CNS leukemia. CNS-directed treatments include intrathecal chemotherapy, CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy, and cranial radiation; some or all of these are included in current regimens for ALL. (Refer to the CNS-directed Therapy for Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia section of this summary for more information.)

Testes

Overt testicular involvement at the time of diagnosis occurs in approximately 2% of males. In early ALL trials, testicular involvement at diagnosis was an adverse prognostic factor. With more aggressive initial therapy, however, the prognostic significance of initial testicular involvement is unclear.[4][5] The role of radiation therapy for testicular involvement is also unclear. A study from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital suggests that a good outcome can be achieved with aggressive conventional chemotherapy without radiation.[4] The Children's Oncology Group has also adopted this strategy for boys with testicular involvement that resolves completely during induction chemotherapy.

References:

  1. Corrigan JJ, Feig SA; American Academy of Pediatrics.: Guidelines for pediatric cancer centers. Pediatrics 113 (6): 1833-5, 2004.

  2. Rubnitz JE, Lensing S, Zhou Y, et al.: Death during induction therapy and first remission of acute leukemia in childhood: the St. Jude experience. Cancer 101 (7): 1677-84, 2004.

  3. Christensen MS, Heyman M, Möttönen M, et al.: Treatment-related death in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in the Nordic countries: 1992-2001. Br J Haematol 131 (1): 50-8, 2005.

  4. Hijiya N, Liu W, Sandlund JT, et al.: Overt testicular disease at diagnosis of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: lack of therapeutic role of local irradiation. Leukemia 19 (8): 1399-403, 2005.

  5. Sirvent N, Suciu S, Bertrand Y, et al.: Overt testicular disease (OTD) at diagnosis is not associated with a poor prognosis in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of the EORTC CLG Study 58881. Pediatr Blood Cancer 49 (3): 344-8, 2007.

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:

  1. Chemotherapy.

Remission induction chemotherapy

The goal of the first phase of therapy (remission induction) is to induce a complete remission (CR). This phase typically lasts 4 weeks. Overall, approximately 98% of patients with newly diagnosed B-precursor ALL achieve CR by the end of this phase, with somewhat lower rates in patients with T-cell ALL or high presenting leukocyte counts.[1][2][3][4][5]

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

  • Vincristine.
  • Corticosteroid (prednisone or dexamethasone).
  • L-asparaginase.

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.

Patients treated by the following study groups receive an induction regimen with four or more drugs regardless of presenting features:

  • Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster Group in Europe.[1]
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.[2]
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium.[3]

The most common four-drug induction regimen is vincristine, corticosteroid (either dexamethasone or prednisone), L-asparaginase, and either doxorubicin or daunorubicin.[6] In a randomized trial of doxorubicin and daunorubicin during induction, there were no differences between these two agents in early response measures, including reduction in peripheral blood blast counts during the first week of therapy, day 15 marrow morphology, and end-induction minimal residual disease (MRD) levels.[6][Level of evidence: 1iiDiv] 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, but it may not be necessary for favorable outcome provided that adequate postremission intensification therapy is administered.[7][8] The COG reserves the use of a four-drug induction for patients with high-risk B-precursor ALL and T-cell ALL.

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 that compared 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 was 1:5 to 1:7 have shown a better result for dexamethasone, while studies that used 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 patients aged 10 years and older.a

L-asparaginase

Several forms of L-asparaginase have been used in the treatment of children with ALL, including the following:

  • PEG-L-asparaginase.
  • Erwinia L-asparaginase.
  • Native E. coli L-asparaginase.

Only PEG-L-asparaginase and Erwinia L-asparaginase are available in the United States. Native E. coli L-asparaginase remains available in other countries.

PEG-L-asparaginase

PEG-L-asparaginase, a form of L-asparaginase in which the Escherichia coli-derived enzyme is modified by the covalent attachment of polyethylene glycol, is the most common preparation used during both induction and postinduction phases of treatment in newly diagnosed patients.

PEG-L-asparaginase may be given either intramuscularly (IM) or intravenously (IV).[18] Pharmacokinetics and toxicity profiles are similar for IM and IV PEG-L-asparaginase administration.[18] There is no evidence that IV administration of PEG-L-asparaginase is more toxic than IM administration.[18][19]

PEG-L-asparaginase has a much longer serum half-life than native E. coli L-asparaginase, producing prolonged asparagine depletion after a single injection.[20]

Serum asparaginase enzyme activity levels of more than 0.1 IU/mL have been associated with serum asparagine depletion. Studies have shown that a single dose of PEG-L-asparaginase given either IM or IV as part of multiagent induction results in serum enzyme activity (>0.1 IU/mL) in nearly all patients for at least 2 to 3 weeks.[18][19][21]

Evidence (use of PEG-L-asparaginase instead of native E. coli L-asparaginase):

  1. A randomized comparison of PEG-L-asparaginase versus native E. coli asparaginase was conducted. Each agent was administered for a 30-week period after the achievement of CR. [22]
    • Similar outcome and similar rates of asparaginase-related toxicities were observed for both groups of patients.
  2. Another randomized trial of patients with standard-risk ALL assigned patients to receive either PEG-L-asparaginase or native E. coli asparaginase in induction and each of two delayed intensification courses.[21]
    • A single dose of PEG-L-asparaginase given in conjunction with vincristine and prednisone during induction therapy appeared to have similar activity and toxicity as nine doses of IM E. coli L-asparaginase (3 times a week for 3 weeks).[21]
    • The use of PEG-L-asparaginase was associated with more rapid blast clearance and a lower incidence of neutralizing antibodies.

Patients with an allergic reaction to PEG-L-asparaginase should be switched to Erwinia L-asparaginase.

Erwinia L-asparaginase:

Erwinia L-asparaginase is typically used in patients who have experienced allergy to native E. coli or PEG-L-asparaginase.

The half-life of Erwinia L-asparaginase (0.65 days) is much shorter than that of native E. coli (1.2 days) or PEG-L-asparaginase (5.7 days).[20] If Erwinia L-asparaginase is utilized, the shorter half-life of the Erwinia preparation requires more frequent administration to achieve adequate asparagine depletion.

Evidence (increased dose frequency of Erwinia L-asparaginase needed to achieve goal therapeutic effect):

  1. In two studies, newly diagnosed patients were randomly assigned to receive the same schedule and dosage of Erwinia L-asparaginase or E. coli L-asparaginase.[23][24]
    • Patients who received Erwinia L-asparaginase had a significantly worse EFS.
    • When administered more frequently (twice weekly), the use of Erwinia L-asparaginase did not adversely impact EFS in patients who had experienced an allergic reaction to E. coli L-asparaginase.[25]
  2. A COG trial demonstrated that IM Erwinia L-asparaginase given three times a week to patients with an allergy to PEG L-asparaginase leads to therapeutic serum asparaginase enzyme activity levels (defined as a level ≥0.1 IU/mL). On that trial, 96% of children achieved a level of 0.1 IU/mL or more at 2 days and 85% did so at 3 days.[26]

Response to remission induction chemotherapy

More than 95% of children with newly diagnosed ALL will achieve a CR within the first 4 weeks of treatment. Of those who fail to achieve CR within the first 4 weeks, approximately one-half will experience a toxic death during the induction phase (usually due to infection) and the other half will have resistant disease (persistent morphologic leukemia).[24][27][28]; [29][Level of evidence: 3iA]

Patients with persistent leukemia at the end of the 4-week induction phase have a poor prognosis and may benefit from an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) once CR is achieved.[30][31][4] In a large retrospective series, the 10-year overall survival for patients with persistent leukemia was 32%.[32] A trend for superior outcome with allogeneic HSCT compared with chemotherapy alone was observed in patients with T-cell phenotype (any age) and B-precursor patients younger than 6 years. B-precursor ALL patients who were aged 1 to 5 years at diagnosis and did not have any adverse cytogenetic abnormalities (MLL translocation, BCR-ABL) had a relatively favorable prognosis, without any advantage in outcome with the utilization of HSCT compared with chemotherapy alone.[32]

For patients who achieve CR, measures of the rapidity of blast clearance and MRD determinations have important prognostic significance, particularly the following:

  • Morphologic persistence of marrow blasts at 7 and 14 days after starting multiagent remission induction therapy has been correlated with higher relapse risk,[33] and has been used in the past by the COG to risk-stratify patients. However, in multivariate analyses, when end-induction MRD is included, these early marrow findings lose their prognostic significance.[34][35]
  • End-induction levels of submicroscopic MRD, assessed either by multiparameter flow cytometry or polymerase chain reaction, strongly correlates with long-term outcome.[34][36][37][38] Intensification of postinduction therapy for patients with high levels of end-induction MRD is under investigation by many groups.
  • MRD levels earlier in induction (e.g., days 8 and 15) and at later postinduction time points (e.g., week 12 after starting therapy) have also been shown to have prognostic significance.[34][38][39][40][41]

(Refer to the Response to initial treatment affecting prognosis section of this summary for more information.)

(Refer to the CNS-directed Therapy for Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia section of this summary for specific information about CNS therapy to prevent CNS relapse in children with newly diagnosed ALL.)

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with untreated childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

References:

  1. Möricke A, Zimmermann M, Reiter A, et al.: Long-term results of five consecutive trials in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia performed by the ALL-BFM study group from 1981 to 2000. Leukemia 24 (2): 265-84, 2010.

  2. Pui CH, Pei D, Sandlund JT, et al.: Long-term results of St Jude Total Therapy Studies 11, 12, 13A, 13B, and 14 for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Leukemia 24 (2): 371-82, 2010.

  3. Silverman LB, Stevenson KE, O'Brien JE, et al.: Long-term results of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium protocols for children with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (1985-2000). Leukemia 24 (2): 320-34, 2010.

  4. Oudot C, Auclerc MF, Levy V, et al.: Prognostic factors for leukemic induction failure in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and outcome after salvage therapy: the FRALLE 93 study. J Clin Oncol 26 (9): 1496-503, 2008.

  5. Salzer WL, Devidas M, Carroll WL, et al.: Long-term results of the pediatric oncology group studies for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia 1984-2001: a report from the children's oncology group. Leukemia 24 (2): 355-70, 2010.

  6. Escherich G, Zimmermann M, Janka-Schaub G, et al.: Doxorubicin or daunorubicin given upfront in a therapeutic window are equally effective in children with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A randomized comparison in trial CoALL 07-03. Pediatr Blood Cancer 60 (2): 254-7, 2013.

  7. Tubergen DG, Gilchrist GS, O'Brien RT, et al.: Improved outcome with delayed intensification for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and intermediate presenting features: a Childrens Cancer Group phase III trial. J Clin Oncol 11 (3): 527-37, 1993.

  8. Gaynon PS, Steinherz PG, Bleyer WA, et al.: Improved therapy for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and unfavorable presenting features: a follow-up report of the Childrens Cancer Group Study CCG-106. J Clin Oncol 11 (11): 2234-42, 1993.

  9. Bostrom BC, Sensel MR, Sather HN, et al.: Dexamethasone versus prednisone and daily oral versus weekly intravenous mercaptopurine for patients with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the Children's Cancer Group. Blood 101 (10): 3809-17, 2003.

  10. Mitchell CD, Richards SM, Kinsey SE, et al.: Benefit of dexamethasone compared with prednisolone for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the UK Medical Research Council ALL97 randomized trial. Br J Haematol 129 (6): 734-45, 2005.

  11. Igarashi S, Manabe A, Ohara A, et al.: No advantage of dexamethasone over prednisolone for the outcome of standard- and intermediate-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the Tokyo Children's Cancer Study Group L95-14 protocol. J Clin Oncol 23 (27): 6489-98, 2005.

  12. De Moerloose B, Suciu S, Bertrand Y, et al.: Improved outcome with pulses of vincristine and corticosteroids in continuation therapy of children with average risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL): report of the EORTC randomized phase 3 trial 58951. Blood 116 (1): 36-44, 2010.

  13. McNeer JL, Nachman JB: The optimal use of steroids in paediatric acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: no easy answers. Br J Haematol 149 (5): 638-52, 2010.

  14. Teuffel O, Kuster SP, Hunger SP, et al.: Dexamethasone versus prednisone for induction therapy in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Leukemia 25 (8): 1232-8, 2011.

  15. Hurwitz CA, Silverman LB, Schorin MA, et al.: Substituting dexamethasone for prednisone complicates remission induction in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Cancer 88 (8): 1964-9, 2000.

  16. Belgaumi AF, Al-Bakrah M, Al-Mahr M, et al.: Dexamethasone-associated toxicity during induction chemotherapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is augmented by concurrent use of daunomycin. Cancer 97 (11): 2898-903, 2003.

  17. Ahmed SF, Tucker P, Mushtaq T, et al.: Short-term effects on linear growth and bone turnover in children randomized to receive prednisolone or dexamethasone. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 57 (2): 185-91, 2002.

  18. Silverman LB, Supko JG, Stevenson KE, et al.: Intravenous PEG-asparaginase during remission induction in children and adolescents with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 115 (7): 1351-3, 2010.

  19. Rizzari C, Citterio M, Zucchetti M, et al.: A pharmacological study on pegylated asparaginase used in front-line treatment of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Haematologica 91 (1): 24-31, 2006.

  20. Asselin BL, Whitin JC, Coppola DJ, et al.: Comparative pharmacokinetic studies of three asparaginase preparations. J Clin Oncol 11 (9): 1780-6, 1993.

  21. Avramis VI, Sencer S, Periclou AP, et al.: A randomized comparison of native Escherichia coli asparaginase and polyethylene glycol conjugated asparaginase for treatment of children with newly diagnosed standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a Children's Cancer Group study. Blood 99 (6): 1986-94, 2002.

  22. Silverman LB, Gelber RD, Dalton VK, et al.: Improved outcome for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of Dana-Farber Consortium Protocol 91-01. Blood 97 (5): 1211-8, 2001.

  23. Duval M, Suciu S, Ferster A, et al.: Comparison of Escherichia coli-asparaginase with Erwinia-asparaginase in the treatment of childhood lymphoid malignancies: results of a randomized European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer-Children's Leukemia Group phase 3 trial. Blood 99 (8): 2734-9, 2002.

  24. Moghrabi A, Levy DE, Asselin B, et al.: Results of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01 for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 109 (3): 896-904, 2007.

  25. Vrooman LM, Supko JG, Neuberg DS, et al.: Erwinia asparaginase after allergy to E. coli asparaginase in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Pediatr Blood Cancer 54 (2): 199-205, 2010.

  26. Salzer WL, Asselin B, Supko JG, et al.: Erwinia asparaginase achieves therapeutic activity after pegaspargase allergy: a report from the Children's Oncology Group. Blood 122 (4): 507-14, 2013.

  27. Pui CH, Sandlund JT, Pei D, et al.: Improved outcome for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of Total Therapy Study XIIIB at St Jude Children's Research Hospital. Blood 104 (9): 2690-6, 2004.

  28. Schrappe M, Reiter A, Ludwig WD, et al.: Improved outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia despite reduced use of anthracyclines and cranial radiotherapy: results of trial ALL-BFM 90. German-Austrian-Swiss ALL-BFM Study Group. Blood 95 (11): 3310-22, 2000.

  29. Prucker C, Attarbaschi A, Peters C, et al.: Induction death and treatment-related mortality in first remission of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a population-based analysis of the Austrian Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster study group. Leukemia 23 (7): 1264-9, 2009.

  30. Balduzzi A, Valsecchi MG, Uderzo C, et al.: Chemotherapy versus allogeneic transplantation for very-high-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in first complete remission: comparison by genetic randomisation in an international prospective study. Lancet 366 (9486): 635-42, 2005 Aug 20-26.

  31. Silverman LB, Gelber RD, Young ML, et al.: Induction failure in acute lymphoblastic leukemia of childhood. Cancer 85 (6): 1395-404, 1999.

  32. Schrappe M, Hunger SP, Pui CH, et al.: Outcomes after induction failure in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 366 (15): 1371-81, 2012.

  33. Gaynon PS, Desai AA, Bostrom BC, et al.: Early response to therapy and outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a review. Cancer 80 (9): 1717-26, 1997.

  34. Borowitz MJ, Devidas M, Hunger SP, et al.: Clinical significance of minimal residual disease in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia and its relationship to other prognostic factors: a Children's Oncology Group study. Blood 111 (12): 5477-85, 2008.

  35. Borowitz MJ, Wood BL, Devidas M, et al.: Assessment of end induction minimal residual disease (MRD) in childhood B precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to eliminate the need for day 14 marrow examination: A Children’s Oncology Group study. [Abstract] J Clin Oncol 31 (Suppl 15): A-10001, 2013. Also available online. Last accessed November 26, 2013.

  36. van Dongen JJ, Seriu T, Panzer-Grümayer ER, et al.: Prognostic value of minimal residual disease in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in childhood. Lancet 352 (9142): 1731-8, 1998.

  37. Zhou J, Goldwasser MA, Li A, et al.: Quantitative analysis of minimal residual disease predicts relapse in children with B-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia in DFCI ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01. Blood 110 (5): 1607-11, 2007.

  38. Conter V, Bartram CR, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Molecular response to treatment redefines all prognostic factors in children and adolescents with B-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results in 3184 patients of the AIEOP-BFM ALL 2000 study. Blood 115 (16): 3206-14, 2010.

  39. Coustan-Smith E, Sancho J, Behm FG, et al.: Prognostic importance of measuring early clearance of leukemic cells by flow cytometry in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 100 (1): 52-8, 2002.

  40. Basso G, Veltroni M, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Risk of relapse of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is predicted by flow cytometric measurement of residual disease on day 15 bone marrow. J Clin Oncol 27 (31): 5168-74, 2009.

  41. Schrappe M, Valsecchi MG, Bartram CR, et al.: Late MRD response determines relapse risk overall and in subsets of childhood T-cell ALL: results of the AIEOP-BFM-ALL 2000 study. Blood 118 (8): 2077-84, 2011.

Postinduction Treatment for Childhood ALL

Standard Postinduction Treatment Options for Childhood ALL

Standard treatment options for consolidation/intensification and maintenance therapy include the following:

  1. Chemotherapy.

Central nervous system (CNS)-directed therapy is provided during premaintenance chemotherapy by all groups. Some protocols (Children’s Oncology Group [COG], St. Jude Children's Research Hospital [SJCRH], and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute [DFCI]) provide ongoing intrathecal chemotherapy during maintenance, while others (Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster [BFM]) do not. (Refer to the CNS-directed Therapy for Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia section of this summary for specific information about CNS therapy to prevent CNS relapse in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) who are receiving postinduction therapy.

Consolidation/intensification therapy

Once complete remission (CR) has been achieved, systemic treatment in conjunction with CNS-directed therapy follows. The intensity of the postinduction chemotherapy varies considerably depending on risk group assignment, but all patients receive some form of intensification after the achievement of CR and before beginning maintenance therapy.

The most commonly used intensification schema is the BFM backbone. This therapeutic backbone, first introduced by the BFM clinical trials group, includes the following:[1]

  1. An initial consolidation (sometimes referred to as “Induction IB”) immediately after the initial induction phase. This phase includes cyclophosphamide, low-dose cytarabine, and a thiopurine (mercaptopurine or thioguanine).
  2. An interim maintenance phase, which includes multiple doses of either intermediate-dose or high-dose methotrexate (1–5 g/m2) with leucovorin rescue or escalating doses of methotrexate (starting dose 100 mg/m2) without leucovorin rescue.
  3. Reinduction (or delayed intensification), which typically includes the same agents used during the induction and initial consolidation phases.
  4. Maintenance, typically consisting of mercaptopurine, low-dose methotrexate, and sometimes, vincristine/steroid pulses.

This backbone has been adopted by many groups, including the COG. Variation of this backbone includes the following:

  • Intensification for higher-risk patients by including additional interim maintenance and/or reinduction phases and administering additional agents during some phases (e.g., vincristine and L-asparaginase added to interim maintenance phases).
  • Elimination or truncation of some of the phases for lower-risk patients to minimize acute and long-term toxicity.

Other clinical trial groups utilize a different therapeutic backbone during postinduction treatment phases:

  • Pediatric Oncology Group (POG): Protocols conducted by the former POG included intensification with high-dose antimetabolite therapy (e.g., multiple doses of intermediate-dose or high-dose methotrexate with leucovorin rescue), but no reinduction/delayed intensification phase.[2]
  • DFCI: The DFCI ALL Consortium protocols include 20 to 30 weeks of L-asparaginase beginning at week 7 of therapy, given in conjunction with maintenance regimen (vincristine/dexamethasone pulses, low-dose methotrexate, nightly mercaptopurine).[3] These protocols also do not include a delayed intensification phase, but high-risk patients do receive additional doses of doxorubicin (instead of methotrexate) during intensification.
  • SJCRH: SJCRH follows a BFM-backbone, but intensifies maintenance for some patients using rotating drug pairs.[4]

Standard-risk ALL

In children with standard-risk ALL, there has been an attempt to limit exposure to drugs such as anthracyclines and alkylating agents that may be associated with an increased risk of late toxic effects.[5][6][7] For regimens utilizing a BFM backbone (such as COG), a single reinduction/delayed intensification phase, given with interim maintenance phases consisting of escalating doses of methotrexate (without leucovorin rescue) and vincristine, have been associated with favorable outcomes.[8] Favorable outcomes for standard-risk patients have also been reported by the POG, utilizing a limited number of courses of intermediate-dose or high-dose methotrexate as consolidation followed by maintenance therapy (without a reinduction phase),[6][9][10] and by the DFCI ALL Consortium utilizing multiple doses of L-asparaginase (20–30 weeks) as consolidation, without postinduction exposure to alkylating agents or anthracyclines.[11][12]

Evidence (intensification for standard-risk ALL):

  1. Clinical trials conducted in the 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated that the use of a delayed intensification phase improved outcome for children with standard-risk ALL treated with regimens using a BFM backbone.[13][14][15] The delayed intensification phase on such regimens, including those of the COG, consists of a 3-week reinduction (including anthracycline) and reconsolidation containing cyclophosphamide, cytarabine, and 6-thioguanine given approximately 3 months after remission is achieved.[13][16][17]
  2. A Children's Cancer Group study (CCG-1991/COG-1991) for standard-risk ALL utilized dexamethasone for induction and a second delayed intensification phase. This study also compared escalating intravenous (IV) methotrexate (without leucovorin rescue) in conjunction with vincristine versus a standard maintenance combination including oral methotrexate given during two interim maintenance phases.[8][Level of evidence: 1iiDi]
    • A second delayed intensification phase provided no benefit in patients who were rapid early responders (M1 or M2 marrow by day 14 of induction).
    • Escalating IV methotrexate during the interim maintenance phases, compared with oral methotrexate during these phases, produced a significant improvement in event-free survival (EFS), which was because of a decreased incidence of isolated extramedullary relapses, particularly those involving the CNS.
  3. In a randomized study conducted in the United Kingdom, children and young adults with ALL who lacked high-risk features (including adverse cytogenetics, and/or M3 marrow morphology at day 8 or day 15 of induction) were risk-stratified based on minimal residual disease (MRD) level at the end of induction (week 4) and at week 11 of therapy. Patients with undetectable MRD at week 4 (or with low MRD at week 4 and undetectable by week 11) were considered low-risk, and were eligible to be randomly assigned to therapy with either one or two delayed intensification phases.[18][Level of evidence: 1iiDi]
    • There was no significant difference in EFS between patients who received one and those who received two delayed intensification phases.
    • There was no significant difference in treatment-related deaths between the two arms; however, the second delayed intensification phase was associated with grade 3 or 4 toxic events in 17% of the 261 patients randomly assigned to that arm, and one patient experienced a treatment-related death during that phase.

High-risk ALL

In high-risk patients, a number of different approaches have been used with comparable efficacy.[11][19]; [17][Level of evidence: 2Di] Treatment for high-risk patients generally is more intensive than that for standard-risk patients and typically includes higher cumulative doses of multiple agents, including anthracyclines and/or alkylating agents. Higher doses of these agents increase the risk of both short-term and long-term toxicities, and many clinical trials have focused on reducing the side effects of these intensified regimens.

Evidence (intensification for high-risk ALL):

  1. The former CCG developed an augmented BFM treatment regimen that included a second interim maintenance and delayed intensification phase. This regimen featured repeated courses of escalating-dose IV methotrexate (without leucovorin rescue) given with vincristine and L-asparaginase during interim maintenance and additional vincristine and L-asparaginase pulses during initial consolidation and delayed intensification. In the CCG-1882 trial, National Cancer Institute (NCI) high-risk patients with slow early response (M3 marrow on day 7 of induction) were randomly assigned to receive either standard- or augmented-BFM therapy.[20]
    • The augmented therapy regimen in the CCG-1882 trial produced a significantly better EFS than did standard CCG modified BFM therapy.
    • There was a significantly higher incidence of osteonecrosis in patients older than 10 years who received the augmented therapy (which included two 21-day postinduction dexamethasone courses), compared with those who were treated on the standard arm (one 21-day postinduction dexamethasone course).[21]
  2. In an Italian study, investigators showed that two applications of delayed intensification therapy (protocol II) significantly improved outcome for patients with a poor response to a prednisone prophase.[22]
  3. The CCG-1961 study used a 2 × 2 factorial design to compare both standard- versus augmented-intensity therapies and therapies of standard duration (one interim maintenance and delayed intensification phase) versus increased duration (two interim maintenance and delayed intensification phases) among NCI high-risk patients with a rapid early response. This trial also tested whether continuous versus alternate-week dexamethasone during delayed intensification phases affected rates of osteonecrosis.
    • Augmented therapy was associated with an improvement in EFS; there was no EFS benefit associated with the administration of the second interim maintenance and delayed intensification phases.[23][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • The cumulative incidence of osteonecrosis of bone at 5 years was 9.9% for patients aged 10 to 15 years and 20.0% for patients aged 16 to 21 years, compared with 1.0% for patients aged 1 to 9 years (P = .0001). For patients aged 10 to 21 years, alternate-week dosing of dexamethasone during delayed intensification phases was associated with a significantly lower cumulative incidence of osteonecrosis, compared with continuous dosing (8.7% vs. 17.0%, P = .0005).[24][Level of evidence: 1iiC]
  4. The use of the cardioprotectant agent dexrazoxane has been shown to prevent cardiotoxicity without adversely impacting EFS in high-risk ALL patients. In a DFCI ALL Consortium trial, children with high-risk ALL were randomly assigned to receive doxorubicin alone (30 mg/m2/dose to a cumulative dose of 300 mg/m2) or the same dose of doxorubicin with dexrazoxane during the induction and intensification phases of multiagent chemotherapy.[25][26]
    • The use of the cardioprotectant dexrazoxane before doxorubicin resulted in better left ventricular fractional shortening and improved end-systolic dimension Z-scores without any adverse effect on EFS or increase in second malignancy risk, compared with the use of doxorubicin alone 5 years posttreatment.
    • A greater long-term protective effect was noted in girls than in boys.
    • The Pediatric Oncology Group (POG)-9404 trial also demonstrated no difference in EFS between patients with T-cell ALL who were treated with dexrazoxane and patients who did not receive dexrazoxane.[27]

Very high-risk ALL

Approximately 10% to 20% of patients with ALL are classified as very high risk, including the following:[17][28]

  • Infants.
  • Patients with adverse cytogenetic abnormalities, including t(9;22), MLL gene rearrangements, and low hypodiploidy (<44 chromosomes).
  • Patients who achieve complete remission but have a slow early response to initial therapy, including those with a high absolute blast count after a 7-day steroid prophase, and patients with high minimal residual disease (MRD) levels at the end of induction (week 4) or later time points (e.g., week 12).
  • Patients who have morphologically persistent disease after the first 4 weeks of therapy (induction failure), even if they later achieve complete remission.

COG also considers patients who are aged 13 years or older to be very high risk, although this age criterion is not utilized by other groups.

Patients with very high-risk features have been treated with multiple cycles of intensive chemotherapy during the consolidation phase (usually in addition to the typical BFM-backbone intensification phases). These additional cycles often include agents not typically used in frontline ALL regimens for standard-risk and high-risk patients, such as high-dose cytarabine, ifosfamide, and etoposide.[17] However, even with this intensified approach, reported long-term EFS rates range from 30% to 50% for this patient subset.[17][29]

On some clinical trials, very high-risk patients have also been considered candidates for allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) in first remission, [29][30][31] although it is not clear whether outcomes are better with transplantation.

Evidence (allogeneic HSCT in first remission for very high-risk patients):

  1. In a European cooperative group study, very high-risk patients (defined as one of the following: morphologically persistent disease after a four-drug induction, t(9;22) or t(4;11), or poor response to prednisone prophase in patients with either T-cell phenotype or presenting white blood cells [WBC] >100,000/μL) were assigned to receive either an allogeneic HSCT in first remission (based on the availability of a human lymphocyte antigen–matched related donor) or intensive chemotherapy.[29]
    • Using an intent-to-treat analysis, patients assigned to allogeneic HSCT (on the basis of donor availability) had a superior 5-year disease-free survival (DFS) compared with patients assigned to intensive chemotherapy (57% ± 7% for transplant versus 41% ± 3% for chemotherapy, P = .02)
    • There was no significant difference in overall survival (OS) (56% ± 6% for transplant versus 50% ± 3% for chemotherapy, P = .12).
    • For patients with T- cell ALL and a poor response to prednisone prophase, both DFS and OS rates were significantly better with allogeneic HSCT.[30]
  2. In another study of very high-risk patients that included children with extremely high presenting leukocyte counts and those with adverse cytogenetic abnormalities and/or initial induction failure (M2 marrow [between 5% and 25% blasts]), allogeneic HSCT in first remission was not associated with either a DFS or OS advantage.[31]
  3. In a large retrospective series of patients with initial induction failure, the 10-year OS for patients with persistent leukemia was 32%.[32]
    • A trend for superior outcome with allogeneic HSCT, compared with chemotherapy alone, was observed in patients with T-cell phenotype (any age) and with B-precursor ALL who were older than 6 years.
    • Patients with B-precursor ALL who were aged 1 to 5 years at diagnosis and did not have any adverse cytogenetic abnormalities (MLL translocation, BCR-ABL) had a relatively favorable prognosis, without any advantage in outcome with the utilization of HSCT compared with chemotherapy alone.

Maintenance therapy

Backbone of maintenance therapy

The backbone of maintenance therapy in most protocols includes daily oral mercaptopurine and weekly oral or parenteral methotrexate. Clinical trials generally call for the administration of oral mercaptopurine in the evening, which is supported by evidence that this practice may improve EFS.[33] On many protocols, intrathecal chemotherapy for CNS sanctuary therapy is continued during maintenance therapy. It is imperative to carefully monitor children on maintenance therapy for both drug-related toxicity and for compliance with the oral chemotherapy agents used during maintenance therapy.[34] Nonadherence to treatment with 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP) in the maintenance phase is associated with a significant increase in the risk of relapse.[34]

Treating physicians must also recognize that some patients may develop severe hematopoietic toxicity when receiving conventional dosages of mercaptopurine because of an inherited deficiency (homozygous mutant) of thiopurine S-methyltransferase, an enzyme that inactivates mercaptopurine.[35][36] These patients are able to tolerate mercaptopurine only if dosages much lower than those conventionally used are administered.[35][36] Patients who are heterozygous for this mutant enzyme gene generally tolerate mercaptopurine without serious toxicity, but they do require more frequent dose reductions for hematopoietic toxicity than do patients who are homozygous for the normal allele.[35]

Evidence (maintenance therapy):

  1. In a meta-analysis of randomized trials that compared thiopurines, 6-thioguanine (6-TG) did not improve the overall EFS, although particular subgroups may benefit from its use.[37] The use of continuous 6-TG instead of 6-MP during the maintenance phase is associated with an increased risk of hepatic complications, including veno-occlusive disease and portal hypertension.[38][39][40][41][42] Because of the increased toxicity of 6-TG, 6-MP remains the standard drug of choice.
  2. Another approach is an intensified maintenance phase that consists of rotating pairs of agents, including cyclophosphamide and epipodophyllotoxins, along with more standard maintenance agents.[4]
    • The intensified maintenance with rotating pairs of agents has been associated with more episodes of febrile neutropenia [43] and a higher risk of secondary acute myelogenous leukemia,[44] especially when epipodophyllotoxins are included.[43]

      SJCRH has modified the agents used in the rotating pair schedule during the maintenance phase. On the Total XV study, standard-risk and high-risk patients received three rotating pairs (mercaptopurine plus methotrexate, cyclophosphamide plus cytarabine, and dexamethasone plus vincristine) throughout this treatment phase; low-risk patients received more standard maintenance (without cyclophosphamide and cytarabine).[45]

  3. A randomized study from Argentina demonstrated no benefit from this intensified approach compared with a more standard maintenance regimen for patients who receive induction and consolidation phases based on a BFM backbone.[43]

Vincristine/corticosteroid pulses

Pulses of vincristine and corticosteroid are often added to the standard maintenance backbone, although the benefit of these pulses within the context of intensive, multiagent regimens remains controversial.

Evidence (vincristine/corticosteroid pulses):

  1. A CCG randomized trial conducted in the 1980s demonstrated improved outcome in patients receiving monthly vincristine/prednisone pulses.[46] A meta-analysis combining data from six clinical trials from the same treatment era showed an EFS advantage for vincristine/prednisone pulses.[47][48]
  2. A systematic review of the impact of vincristine plus steroid pulses from more recent clinical trials raised the question of whether such pulses are of value in current ALL treatment, which includes more intensive early therapy.[48]
  3. In a multicenter randomized trial in children with intermediate-risk ALL being treated on a BFM regimen, there was no benefit associated with the addition of six pulses of vincristine/dexamethasone during the continuation phase, although the pulses were administered less frequently than in other trials in which a benefit had been demonstrated.[49]
  4. A small multicenter trial of average-risk patients demonstrated superior EFS in patients receiving vincristine plus corticosteroid pulses. In this study, there was no difference in outcome based on type of steroid (prednisone vs. dexamethasone).[50][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

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][51][52][53][54]

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][51]
    • 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.[52]
    • 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.[54]
    • 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.[21][53]

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.[47]

Adherence to maintenance therapy

Nonadherence to treatment with 6-MP in maintenance is associated with a significant increase in the risk of relapse.[34]

Evidence (adherence to treatment):

  1. The COG studied the impact of non-adherence to 6-MP during maintenance in 327 children and adolescents of different ethnic backgrounds.[34]
    • Adherence declined from 95% to 90% over the 6-month observation period.
    • Adherence was significantly lower among Hispanics, patients older than 12 years, and patients from single-mother households.
    • Lower adherence to 6-MP was associated with a significantly higher risk of relapse. After adjusting for other prognostic factors (including NCI risk group and chromosomal abnormalities), a progressive increase in relapse was observed with decreasing adherence.

Treatment options under clinical evaluation

Risk-based treatment assignment is a key therapeutic strategy utilized for children with ALL, and protocols are designed for specific patient populations that have varying degrees of risk of treatment failure. The Risk-based Treatment Assignment section of this summary describes the clinical and laboratory features used for the initial stratification of children with ALL into risk-based treatment groups.

Ongoing clinical trials include the following:

COG studies for B-precursor ALL

Standard-risk ALL

  1. COG-AALL0932 (Risk-Adapted Chemotherapy in Younger Patients With Newly Diagnosed Standard-Risk ALL):

    This trial subdivides standard-risk patients into two groups: low risk and average risk. Low risk is defined as the presence of all of the following: NCI-standard risk age/WBC, favorable genetics (e.g., double trisomies or ETV6-RUNX1), CNS1 at presentation, and low MRD (<0.01% by flow cytometry) at day 8 (peripheral blood) and day 29 (marrow). Average risk includes other NCI standard-risk patients excluding those with high day 29 MRD morphologic induction failure or other unfavorable presenting features (e.g., CNS3, iAMP21, low hypodiploidy, MLL translocations, and BCR-ABL).

    All patients will receive a three-drug induction (dexamethasone, vincristine, and IV PEG-L-asparaginase) with intrathecal chemotherapy. For postinduction therapy, low-risk patients will be randomly assigned to receive one of the following:

    • A regimen based on POG-9904, including six courses of intermediate-dose methotrexate (1 g/m2) but without any alkylating agents or anthracyclines.
    • A modified BFM backbone including two interim maintenance phases with escalating doses of IV methotrexate (no leucovorin) and one delayed intensification phase.

    The objective is not to prove superiority of either regimen, but rather, to determine whether excellent outcomes (at least 95% 5-year DFS) can be achieved.

    All average-risk patients will receive a modified BFM-backbone as postinduction treatment. For these patients, the study is comparing, in a randomized fashion, two doses of weekly oral methotrexate during the maintenance phase (20 mg/m2 and 40 mg/m2) to determine whether the higher dose favorably impacts DFS. Average-risk patients are also eligible to participate in a randomized comparison of two schedules of vincristine/dexamethasone pulses during maintenance (delivered every 4 weeks or every 12 weeks). The objective of this randomization is to determine whether vincristine/dexamethasone pulses can be delivered less frequently without adversely impacting outcome.

High-risk ALL

  1. COG-AALL1131 (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed High-Risk ALL):

    This protocol is open to patients aged 30 years or younger. Patients treated on this trial are classified as either high risk or very high risk. The presence of any of the following is sufficient to classify a patient as very high risk:

    • Age 13 years or older.
    • CNS3 at diagnosis.
    • M3 marrow at day 29.
    • Unfavorable genetics (e.g., iAMP21, low hypodiploidy, MLL gene rearrangements).
    • High marrow MRD (>0.01% by flow cytometry) at day 29 (with the exception of NCI standard-risk patients with favorable genetics).

    The high-risk group includes patients with NCI high-risk ALL who lack very high-risk features, and two groups of NCI standard-risk patients who otherwise lack very high-risk features: (1) those without favorable genetics (no ETV6-RUNX1 or double trisomies 4 and 10), and with day 8 peripheral blood MRD >1%; and (2) those with favorable cytogenetics and with high marrow MRD at day 29. Patients with BCR-ABL (Philadelphia chromosome–positive) are treated on a separate clinical trial.

    Patients on this trial will receive a four-drug induction (vincristine, corticosteroid, daunorubicin, and IV PEG-L-asparaginase) with intrathecal chemotherapy. Patients younger than 10 years receive dexamethasone during induction, and those aged 10 years and older receive prednisone. Postinduction therapy consists of a modified BFM backbone, including an interim maintenance phase with high-dose methotrexate and one delayed intensification phase. Very high-risk patients receive a second interim maintenance phase before beginning more standard maintenance. Only patients with CNS3 status at diagnosis receive cranial radiation. Those with M3 marrow at day 29 or low hypodiploidy are eligible for allogeneic HSCT in first remission.

    For high-risk patients, the study will compare, in a randomized fashion, triple intrathecal chemotherapy (methotrexate, cytarabine, and hydrocortisone) with intrathecal methotrexate to determine whether triple intrathecal chemotherapy reduces CNS relapse rates and improves EFS.

    For very high-risk patients, the study will test, in a randomized fashion, whether intensified consolidation phases (including either cyclophosphamide/etoposide or clofarabine/cyclophosphamide/etoposide) improves 4-year DFS compared with the standard consolidation phase.

Other studies

  1. Total XVI study (TOTXVI) (Total Therapy Study XVI for Newly Diagnosed Patients With ALL): A study at SJCRH is randomly assigning patients to receive either standard-dose (2,500 u/m2) or high-dose (3,500 u/m2) PEG-L-asparaginase during postremission therapy.
  2. DFCI-11-001 (NCT01574274)(SC-PEG Asparaginase versus Oncaspar in Pediatric ALL and Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): A DFCI ALL Consortium protocol is comparing the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of two forms of IV PEG-L-asparaginase (pegaspargase [Oncaspar] and calaspargase pegol [SC-PEG]). Patients will be randomly assigned to receive a single dose of one of these preparations during multiagent induction, and then either pegaspargase every 2 weeks (15 doses total) or calaspargase pegol every 3 weeks (10 doses total) during the 30-week consolidation phase.

    This protocol is also examining the following:

    • Whether an intensified consolidation including high-dose cytarabine and etoposide improves the outcome for very high-risk patients (patients with high MRD at the end of remission induction, MLL translocations, or hypodiploidy [<44 chromosomes]).
    • Whether antibiotic prophylaxis (with fluoroquinolones) reduces rates of bacteremia and other serious bacterial infections during the remission induction phase.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia in remission. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

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  26. Barry EV, Vrooman LM, Dahlberg SE, et al.: Absence of secondary malignant neoplasms in children with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated with dexrazoxane. J Clin Oncol 26 (7): 1106-11, 2008.

  27. Asselin B, Devidas M, Zhou T, et al.: Cardioprotection and safety of dexrazoxane (DRZ) in children treated for newly diagnosed T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) or advanced stage lymphoblastic leukemia (T-LL). [Abstract] J Clin Oncol 30 (Suppl 15): A-9504, 2012.

  28. Schultz KR, Pullen DJ, Sather HN, et al.: Risk- and response-based classification of childhood B-precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a combined analysis of prognostic markers from the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) and Children's Cancer Group (CCG). Blood 109 (3): 926-35, 2007.

  29. Balduzzi A, Valsecchi MG, Uderzo C, et al.: Chemotherapy versus allogeneic transplantation for very-high-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in first complete remission: comparison by genetic randomisation in an international prospective study. Lancet 366 (9486): 635-42, 2005 Aug 20-26.

  30. Schrauder A, Reiter A, Gadner H, et al.: Superiority of allogeneic hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation compared with chemotherapy alone in high-risk childhood T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results from ALL-BFM 90 and 95. J Clin Oncol 24 (36): 5742-9, 2006.

  31. Ribera JM, Ortega JJ, Oriol A, et al.: Comparison of intensive chemotherapy, allogeneic, or autologous stem-cell transplantation as postremission treatment for children with very high risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: PETHEMA ALL-93 Trial. J Clin Oncol 25 (1): 16-24, 2007.

  32. Schrappe M, Hunger SP, Pui CH, et al.: Outcomes after induction failure in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 366 (15): 1371-81, 2012.

  33. Schmiegelow K, Glomstein A, Kristinsson J, et al.: Impact of morning versus evening schedule for oral methotrexate and 6-mercaptopurine on relapse risk for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Nordic Society for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology (NOPHO). J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 19 (2): 102-9, 1997 Mar-Apr.

  34. Bhatia S, Landier W, Shangguan M, et al.: Nonadherence to oral mercaptopurine and risk of relapse in Hispanic and non-Hispanic white children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the children's oncology group. J Clin Oncol 30 (17): 2094-101, 2012.

  35. Relling MV, Hancock ML, Rivera GK, et al.: Mercaptopurine therapy intolerance and heterozygosity at the thiopurine S-methyltransferase gene locus. J Natl Cancer Inst 91 (23): 2001-8, 1999.

  36. Andersen JB, Szumlanski C, Weinshilboum RM, et al.: Pharmacokinetics, dose adjustments, and 6-mercaptopurine/methotrexate drug interactions in two patients with thiopurine methyltransferase deficiency. Acta Paediatr 87 (1): 108-11, 1998.

  37. Escherich G, Richards S, Stork LC, et al.: Meta-analysis of randomised trials comparing thiopurines in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Leukemia 25 (6): 953-9, 2011.

  38. Broxson EH, Dole M, Wong R, et al.: Portal hypertension develops in a subset of children with standard risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated with oral 6-thioguanine during maintenance therapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer 44 (3): 226-31, 2005.

  39. De Bruyne R, Portmann B, Samyn M, et al.: Chronic liver disease related to 6-thioguanine in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. J Hepatol 44 (2): 407-10, 2006.

  40. Vora A, Mitchell CD, Lennard L, et al.: Toxicity and efficacy of 6-thioguanine versus 6-mercaptopurine in childhood lymphoblastic leukaemia: a randomised trial. Lancet 368 (9544): 1339-48, 2006.

  41. Jacobs SS, Stork LC, Bostrom BC, et al.: Substitution of oral and intravenous thioguanine for mercaptopurine in a treatment regimen for children with standard risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a collaborative Children's Oncology Group/National Cancer Institute pilot trial (CCG-1942). Pediatr Blood Cancer 49 (3): 250-5, 2007.

  42. Stork LC, Matloub Y, Broxson E, et al.: Oral 6-mercaptopurine versus oral 6-thioguanine and veno-occlusive disease in children with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: report of the Children's Oncology Group CCG-1952 clinical trial. Blood 115 (14): 2740-8, 2010.

  43. Felice MS, Rossi JG, Gallego MS, et al.: No advantage of a rotational continuation phase in acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood treated with a BFM back-bone therapy. Pediatr Blood Cancer 57 (1): 47-55, 2011.

  44. Hijiya N, Hudson MM, Lensing S, et al.: Cumulative incidence of secondary neoplasms as a first event after childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. JAMA 297 (11): 1207-15, 2007.

  45. Pui CH, Campana D, Pei D, et al.: Treating childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia without cranial irradiation. N Engl J Med 360 (26): 2730-41, 2009.

  46. Bleyer WA, Sather HN, Nickerson HJ, et al.: Monthly pulses of vincristine and prednisone prevent bone marrow and testicular relapse in low-risk childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report of the CCG-161 study by the Childrens Cancer Study Group. J Clin Oncol 9 (6): 1012-21, 1991.

  47. Duration and intensity of maintenance chemotherapy in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: overview of 42 trials involving 12 000 randomised children. Childhood ALL Collaborative Group. Lancet 347 (9018): 1783-8, 1996.

  48. Eden TO, Pieters R, Richards S, et al.: Systematic review of the addition of vincristine plus steroid pulses in maintenance treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - an individual patient data meta-analysis involving 5,659 children. Br J Haematol 149 (5): 722-33, 2010.

  49. Conter V, Valsecchi MG, Silvestri D, et al.: Pulses of vincristine and dexamethasone in addition to intensive chemotherapy for children with intermediate-risk acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: a multicentre randomised trial. Lancet 369 (9556): 123-31, 2007.

  50. De Moerloose B, Suciu S, Bertrand Y, et al.: Improved outcome with pulses of vincristine and corticosteroids in continuation therapy of children with average risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL): report of the EORTC randomized phase 3 trial 58951. Blood 116 (1): 36-44, 2010.

  51. Bostrom BC, Sensel MR, Sather HN, et al.: Dexamethasone versus prednisone and daily oral versus weekly intravenous mercaptopurine for patients with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the Children's Cancer Group. Blood 101 (10): 3809-17, 2003.

  52. Mitchell CD, Richards SM, Kinsey SE, et al.: Benefit of dexamethasone compared with prednisolone for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the UK Medical Research Council ALL97 randomized trial. Br J Haematol 129 (6): 734-45, 2005.

  53. Strauss AJ, Su JT, Dalton VM, et al.: Bony morbidity in children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 19 (12): 3066-72, 2001.

  54. Vrooman LM, Stevenson KE, Supko JG, et al.: Postinduction dexamethasone and individualized dosing of Escherichia Coli L-asparaginase each improve outcome of children and adolescents with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results from a randomized study--Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 00-01. J Clin Oncol 31 (9): 1202-10, 2013.

CNS-directed Therapy for Childhood ALL

Approximately 3% of patients have detectable central nervous system (CNS) involvement by conventional criteria at diagnosis (cerebrospinal fluid [CSF] specimen with ≥5 white blood cell [WBC]/μL with lymphoblasts and/or the presence of cranial nerve palsies). However, unless specific therapy is directed toward the CNS, the majority of children will eventually develop overt CNS leukemia. Therefore, all children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) should receive systemic combination chemotherapy together with some form of CNS prophylaxis.

Because the CNS is a sanctuary site (i.e., an anatomic space that is poorly penetrated by many of the systemically administered chemotherapy agents typically used to treat ALL), specific CNS-directed therapies must be instituted early in treatment to eliminate clinically evident CNS disease at diagnosis and to prevent CNS relapse in all patients. Historically, survival rates for children with ALL improved dramatically after CNS-directed therapies were added to treatment regimens.

Standard treatment options for CNS-directed therapy include the following:

  1. Intrathecal chemotherapy.
  2. CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy.
  3. Cranial radiation.

All of these treatment modalities have a role in the treatment and prevention of CNS leukemia. The combination of intrathecal chemotherapy plus CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy is standard; cranial radiation is reserved for selective situations.[1]

The type of CNS-therapy that is used is based on a patient’s risk of CNS-relapse, with higher-risk patients receiving more intensive treatments. Data suggest that the following groups of patients are at increased risk of CNS relapse:

  • Patients with five or more WBC/µL and blasts in the CSF (CNS3), obtained at diagnosis.
  • Patients with blasts in the CSF but fewer than 5 WBC/µL (CNS2) may be at increased risk of CNS relapse,[2] although this risk appears to be nearly fully abrogated if they receive more doses of intrathecal chemotherapy, especially during the induction phase.[3]
  • Patients with T-cell ALL, especially those with high presenting peripheral blood leukocyte counts.
  • Patients who have a traumatic lumbar puncture showing blasts at the time of diagnosis may have an increased risk of CNS relapse. These patients receive more intensive CNS-directed therapy on some treatment protocols.[3][4]

CNS-directed treatment regimens for newly diagnosed childhood ALL are presented in Table 2:

Table 2. CNS-Directed Treatment Regimens for Newly Diagnosed Childhood ALL

Disease Status

Standard Treatment Options

Standard-risk ALL

Intrathecal chemotherapy

Methotrexate alone

Methotrexate with cytarabine and hydrocortisone

CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy

Dexamethasone

L-asparaginasea

High-dose methotrexate with leucovorin rescue

Escalating-dose intravenous methotrexate (no leucovorin rescue)

High-risk ALL

Intrathecal chemotherapy

Methotrexate alone

Methotrexate with cytarabine and hydrocortisone

CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy

Dexamethasone

L-asparaginasea

High-dose methotrexate with leucovorin rescue

Cranial radiation

ALL = acute lymphoblastic leukemia; CNS = central nervous system; CNS3 = cerebrospinal fluid with five or more white blood cells/µL, cytospin positive for blasts, or cranial nerve palsies.

aThe drug itself is not CNS-penetrant, but leads to cerebrospinal fluid asparagine depletion.

A major goal of current ALL clinical trials is to provide effective CNS therapy while minimizing neurologic toxic effects and other late effects.

Intrathecal Chemotherapy

All therapeutic regimens for childhood ALL include intrathecal chemotherapy. Intrathecal chemotherapy is usually started at the beginning of induction, intensified during consolidation and, in many protocols, continued throughout the maintenance phase.

Intrathecal chemotherapy typically consists of one of the following:[5]

  1. Methotrexate alone.
  2. Methotrexate with cytarabine and hydrocortisone (triple intrathecal chemotherapy).

Unlike intrathecal cytarabine, intrathecal methotrexate has a significant systemic effect, which may contribute to prevention of marrow relapse.[6]

CNS-directed Systemic Chemotherapy

In addition to therapy delivered directly to the brain and spinal fluid, systemically administered agents are also an important component of effective CNS prophylaxis. The following systemically administered drugs provide some degree of CNS prophylaxis:

  • Dexamethasone.
  • L-asparaginase (does not penetrate into CSF itself, but leads to CSF asparagine depletion).
  • High-dose methotrexate with leucovorin rescue.
  • Escalating dose intravenous (IV) methotrexate without leucovorin rescue.

Evidence (CNS-directed systemic chemotherapy):

  1. In a randomized Children's Cancer Group (CCG) study of standard-risk patients who all received the same dose and schedule of intrathecal methotrexate without cranial irradiation, oral dexamethasone was associated with a 50% decrease in the rate of CNS relapse compared with oral prednisone.[7]
  2. In another standard-risk ALL trial (COG-1991), escalating dose IV methotrexate without rescue significantly reduced the CNS relapse rate compared with standard, low-dose, oral methotrexate given during each of two interim maintenance phases.[8]
  3. In a randomized clinical trial conducted by the former Pediatric Oncology Group, T-cell ALL patients who received high-dose methotrexate experienced a significantly lower CNS relapse rate than patients who did not receive high-dose methotrexate.[9]

Cranial Radiation

The proportion of patients receiving cranial radiation has decreased significantly over time. At present, most newly diagnosed children with ALL are treated without cranial radiation. Many groups administer cranial radiation only to those patients considered to be at highest risk of subsequent CNS relapse, such as those with documented CNS leukemia at diagnosis (as defined above) (>5 WBC/μL with blasts; CNS3) and/or T-cell phenotype with high presenting WBC count.[10] In patients who do receive cranial radiation, the dose has been significantly reduced.

Ongoing trials seek to determine whether radiation can be eliminated from the treatment of all children with ALL without compromising survival or leading to increased rate of toxicities from upfront and salvage therapies.[11][12] A meta-analysis of randomized trials of CNS-directed therapy has confirmed that radiation therapy can be replaced by intrathecal chemotherapy in most patients with ALL. Additional systemic therapy may be required depending on the agents and intensity used.[1][Level of evidence: 1iDi]

CNS Therapy for Standard-risk Patients

Intrathecal chemotherapy without cranial radiation, given in the context of appropriate systemic chemotherapy, results in CNS relapse rates of less than 5% for children with standard-risk ALL.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

The use of cranial radiation does not appear to be a necessary component of CNS-directed therapy for these patients.[17][18]

Evidence (triple intrathecal chemotherapy vs. intrathecal methotrexate):

  1. The CCG-1952 study for National Cancer Institute (NCI) standard-risk patients compared the relative efficacy and toxicity of triple intrathecal chemotherapy (methotrexate, hydrocortisone, and cytarabine) with methotrexate as the sole intrathecal agent in nonirradiated patients.[19]
    1. There was no significant difference in either CNS or non-CNS toxicities.
    2. Although triple intrathecal chemotherapy was associated with a lower rate of isolated CNS relapse (3.4% ± 1.0% compared with 5.9% ± 1.2% for intrathecal methotrexate; P = .004), there was no difference in event-free survival (EFS).
      • This effect was especially notable in patients with CNS2 status at diagnosis (lymphoblasts seen in CSF cytospin, but with <5 WBC/high-power field [hpf] on CSF cell count); the isolated CNS relapse rate was 7.7% ± 5.3% for CNS2 patients who received triple intrathecal chemotherapy compared with 23.0% ± 9.5% for those who received intrathecal methotrexate alone (P = .04).
      • There were more bone marrow relapses in the group that received the triple intrathecal chemotherapy, leading to a worse overall survival (OS) (90.3% ± 1.5%) compared with the intrathecal methotrexate group (94.4% ± 1.1%; P = .01).
      • When the analysis was restricted to patients with precursor B-cell ALL and rapid early response (M1 marrow on day 14), there was no difference between triple and single intrathecal chemotherapy in terms of rates of CNS relapse rate, OS, or EFS.
      • The findings of this trial need to be interpreted within the context of other therapy administered to patients. Dexamethasone, which has been associated with lower CNS relapse rates and improved EFS in standard-risk patients in other trials,[7][20] was not used in CCG-1952 (prednisone was the only steroid administered to patients).[21] It is not clear whether the results of the CCG-1952 trial are generalizable to protocols that include the use of dexamethasone and/or other CNS-directed systemic therapies.
    3. In a follow-up study of neurocognitive functioning in the two groups, there were no clinically significant differences.[22][Level of evidence: 1iiC]

CNS Therapy for High-risk Patients

Controversy exists as to which high-risk patients should be treated with cranial radiation. Depending on the protocol, up to 20% of children with ALL receive cranial radiation as part of their CNS-directed therapy, even if they present without CNS involvement at diagnosis. Patients receiving cranial radiation on many treatment regimens include the following:[10]

  • Patients with T-cell phenotype and high initial WBC count.
  • Patients with high-risk precursor B-cell ALL (e.g., extremely high presenting leukocyte counts and/or adverse cytogenetic abnormalities and/or CNS3 disease).

Both the proportion of patients receiving radiation and the dose of radiation administered have decreased over the last 2 decades.

Evidence (cranial radiation):

  1. In a trial conducted between 1990 and 1995, the Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (BFM) group demonstrated that a reduced dose of prophylactic radiation (12 Gy instead of 18 Gy) provided effective CNS prophylaxis in high-risk patients.[23]
  2. In the follow-up trial conducted by the BFM group between 1995 and 2000 (BFM-95), cranial radiation was administered to approximately 20% of patients (compared with 70% on the previous trial), including patients with T-cell phenotype, a slow early response (as measured by peripheral blood blast count after a 1-week steroid prophase), and/or adverse cytogenetic abnormalities.[16]
    • While the rate of isolated CNS relapses was higher in the nonirradiated higher-risk patients compared with historic (irradiated) cohorts, their overall EFS rate was not significantly different.[16]
  3. Several groups, including the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (SJCRH), the Dutch Childhood Oncology Group (DCOG), and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), have published results of trials that omitted cranial radiation for all patients, including high-risk subsets.[11][12][24] Most of these trials have included at least four doses of high-dose methotrexate during postinduction consolidation and an increased frequency of intrathecal chemotherapy. The SJCRH and DCOG studies also included frequent vincristine/dexamethasone pulses and intensified dosing of L-asparaginase,[11][12] while the EORTC trials included additional high-dose methotrexate and multiple doses of high-dose cytarabine during postinduction treatment phases for CNS3 (CSF with ≥5 WBC/µL and cytospin positive for blasts) patients.[24]
    • The 5-year cumulative incidence of isolated CNS relapse on those trials was between 2% and 4%, although some patient subsets had a significantly higher rate of CNS relapse. On the SJCRH study, clinical features associated with a significantly higher risk of isolated CNS relapse included T-cell phenotype, the t(1;19) translocation, or the presence of blasts in the CSF at diagnosis.[11]
    • The overall EFS for the SJCRH study was 85.6% and 81% for the DCOG study, both in line with outcomes achieved by contemporaneously conducted clinical trials on which some patients received prophylactic radiation, but was lower on the EORTC trial (8-year EFS, 69.6%).[24]
    • Of note, on the SJCRH study, 33 of 498 (6.6%) patients in first remission with high-risk features (including 26 with high minimal residual disease, six with Philadelphia chromosome-positive ALL, and one with near haploidy) received an allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant , which included total-body irradiation.[11]

CNS Therapy for Patients With CNS Involvement (CNS3 Disease) at Diagnosis

Therapy for ALL patients with clinically evident CNS disease (≥5 WBC/hpf with blasts on cytospin; CNS3) at diagnosis typically includes intrathecal chemotherapy and cranial radiation (usual dose is 18 Gy).[16][18] Spinal radiation is no longer used.

Evidence (cranial radiation):

  1. SJCRH, DCOG, and the EORTC have published results of trials that omitted cranial radiation for all patients, including high-risk subsets.[11][24] These trials have included at least four doses of high-dose methotrexate during postinduction consolidation and an increased frequency of intrathecal chemotherapy. The SJCRH study also included higher cumulative doses of anthracycline than on Children’s Oncology Group (COG) trials, and frequent vincristine/dexamethasone pulses and intensified dosing of L-asparaginase,[11] while the EORTC trials included additional high-dose methotrexate and multiple doses of high-dose cytarabine, during postinduction treatment phases for CNS3 (CSF with ≥5 WBC/µL and cytospin positive for blasts) patients.[24]
    • On the SJCRH Total XV (TOTXV) study, patients with CNS3 status (N = 9) were treated without cranial radiation (observed 5-year EFS, 43% ± 23%).[11] On this study, CNS leukemia at diagnosis (defined as CNS3 status or traumatic lumbar puncture with blasts) was an independent predictor of inferior EFS.
    • On the DCOG-9 trial, the 5-year EFS of CNS3 patients (n = 21) treated without cranial radiation was 67% ± 10%.[12]
    • On the EORTC trial, the 8-year EFS of CNS3 patients (n = 49) treated without cranial radiation was 68%. The cumulative incidence of isolated CNS relapse for those patients was 9.4%.[24][Level of evidence: 2A]

Larger studies will be necessary to fully elucidate the safety of omitting cranial radiation in CNS3 patients.

Presymptomatic CNS Therapy Options Under Clinical Evaluation

Treatment options under clinical evaluation include the following:

  1. COG-AALL0434 (NCT00408005) (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed T-Cell ALL or T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): In the COG protocol (COG-AALL0434) for patients with T-cell ALL, low-risk T-cell patients (those with NCI standard-risk features, no evidence of CNS disease, and a rapid response to induction therapy) are treated without cranial radiation, and intermediate-risk and high-risk T-cell patients receive 12 Gy (instead of 18 Gy) cranial radiation. Patients with CNS3 disease at diagnosis continue to receive 18 Gy cranial radiation. All patients are randomly assigned to receive either high-dose methotrexate (5 g/m2 over 24 hours) with leucovorin rescue or escalating-dose methotrexate without leucovorin rescue during the initial interim maintenance phase of therapy. Intermediate-risk and high-risk patients are also randomly assigned to receive or not receive nelarabine, an antipurine with selective activity in T-lymphoblasts.
  2. COG-AALL1131 (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed High-Risk ALL): The COG-AALL1131 protocol for patients with high-risk B-precursor ALL includes a randomized comparison of triple intrathecal chemotherapy (methotrexate, cytarabine, and hydrocortisone) with intrathecal methotrexate, with the objective of determining whether triple intrathecal chemotherapy reduces CNS-relapse rates and improves overall EFS. Only patients with CNS3 status at diagnosis will receive cranial radiation (18 Gy).
  3. SJCRH Total XVI (TOTXVI) (Total Therapy Study XVI for Newly Diagnosed Patients With ALL): Patients receive both intrathecal chemotherapy and high-dose methotrexate without radiation therapy. Certain patients with high-risk features, including those with a t(1;19) translocation, receive intensified intrathecal therapy.

Toxicity of CNS-directed Therapy

Toxic effects of CNS-directed therapy for childhood ALL can be divided into the following two broad groups:

  1. Acute/subacute toxicities (e.g., seizures, stroke, somnolence syndrome, and ascending paralysis).
  2. Late-developing toxicities (e.g., meningiomas and other second neoplasms; leukoencephalopathy; and a range of neurocognitive, behavioral, and neuroendocrine disturbances).[25][26][27]

Acute/subacute toxicities

The most common acute side effect associated with intrathecal chemotherapy alone is seizures. Up to 5% of nonirradiated patients with ALL treated with frequent doses of intrathecal chemotherapy will have at least one seizure during therapy.[11] Higher rates of seizure were observed with consolidation regimens that included multiple doses of high-dose methotrexate in addition to intrathecal chemotherapy.[28]

Patients with ALL who develop seizures during the course of treatment and who receive anticonvulsant therapy should not receive phenobarbital or phenytoin as anticonvulsant treatment, as these drugs may increase the clearance of some chemotherapeutic drugs and adversely affect treatment outcome.[29] Gabapentin or valproic acid are alternative anticonvulsants with less enzyme-inducing capabilities.[29]

Late-developing toxicities

In general, patients who receive intrathecal chemotherapy without cranial radiation appear to have less severe neurocognitive sequelae than irradiated patients, and the deficits that do develop represent relatively modest declines in a limited number of domains of neuropsychological functioning.[30][31][32][33] This modest decline is primarily seen in young children and girls.[34]

A comparison of neurocognitive outcomes of patients treated with methotrexate versus triple intrathecal chemotherapy showed no clinically meaningful difference.[22][Level of evidence: 3iiiC]

Controversy exists about whether patients who receive dexamethasone have a higher risk of neurocognitive disturbances.[35] Long-term neurocognitive testing in 92 children with a history of standard-risk ALL who had received either dexamethasone or prednisone during treatment did not demonstrate any meaningful differences in cognitive functioning based on corticosteroid randomization.[36]

Long-term deleterious effects of cranial radiation, particularly at doses higher than 18 Gy, have been recognized for years. Children receiving these higher doses of cranial radiation are at significant risk of neurocognitive and neuroendocrine sequelae.[37][38][39][40][41] At doses of 18 Gy, it does not appear that irradiated patients have more severe neurocognitive impairments than ALL survivors who were treated without radiation.[30] On current clinical trials, many patients who receive prophylactic or presymptomatic cranial radiation are treated with an even lower dose. Longer follow-up is needed to determine whether 12 Gy will be associated with a lower incidence of late effects.

The following groups have been associated with neurocognitive and neuroendocrine sequelae after cranial radiation:

  • Young children (i.e., younger than 4 years) are at increased risk of neurocognitive decline and other sequelae after cranial radiation.[42][43][44]
  • Girls may be at a higher risk than boys of radiation-induced neuropsychologic and neuroendocrine sequelae.[43][44][45]
  • Long-term survivors treated with 18 Gy radiation appear to have less severe neurocognitive sequelae than those who had received higher doses of radiation (24–28 Gy) on clinical trials conducted in the 1970s and 1980s.[46]

Evidence (toxicity of cranial radiation):

  1. In a randomized trial, hyperfractionated radiation (at a dose of 18 Gy) did not decrease neurologic late effects when compared with conventionally fractionated radiation; cognitive function for both groups was not significantly impaired.[47]
  2. In another randomized trial comparing irradiated (at a dose of 18 Gy) and nonirradiated standard-risk ALL patients, cognitive function for both groups (assessed at a median of 6 years postdiagnosis) was in the average range, with only subtle differences noted between the groups in cognitive skills.[30][Level of evidence: 1iiC]

Cranial radiation has also been associated with an increased risk of second neoplasms, many of which are benign or of low malignant potential, such as meningiomas, although high-grade lesions may occur.[27][48][49] Leukoencephalopathy has been observed after cranial radiation in children with ALL, but appears to be more common with higher doses than are currently administered.[50] In general, systemic methotrexate doses greater than 1 g/m2 should not be given after cranial radiation because of the increased risk of neurologic sequelae, including leukoencephalopathy.

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  2. Mahmoud HH, Rivera GK, Hancock ML, et al.: Low leukocyte counts with blast cells in cerebrospinal fluid of children with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 329 (5): 314-9, 1993.

  3. Bürger B, Zimmermann M, Mann G, et al.: Diagnostic cerebrospinal fluid examination in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: significance of low leukocyte counts with blasts or traumatic lumbar puncture. J Clin Oncol 21 (2): 184-8, 2003.

  4. Gajjar A, Harrison PL, Sandlund JT, et al.: Traumatic lumbar puncture at diagnosis adversely affects outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 96 (10): 3381-4, 2000.

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  6. Thyss A, Suciu S, Bertrand Y, et al.: Systemic effect of intrathecal methotrexate during the initial phase of treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Children's Leukemia Cooperative Group. J Clin Oncol 15 (5): 1824-30, 1997.

  7. Bostrom BC, Sensel MR, Sather HN, et al.: Dexamethasone versus prednisone and daily oral versus weekly intravenous mercaptopurine for patients with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the Children's Cancer Group. Blood 101 (10): 3809-17, 2003.

  8. Matloub Y, Bostrom BC, Hunger SP, et al.: Escalating intravenous methotrexate improves event-free survival in children with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the Children's Oncology Group. Blood 118 (2): 243-51, 2011.

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  11. Pui CH, Campana D, Pei D, et al.: Treating childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia without cranial irradiation. N Engl J Med 360 (26): 2730-41, 2009.

  12. Veerman AJ, Kamps WA, van den Berg H, et al.: Dexamethasone-based therapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the prospective Dutch Childhood Oncology Group (DCOG) protocol ALL-9 (1997-2004). Lancet Oncol 10 (10): 957-66, 2009.

  13. Pui CH, Sandlund JT, Pei D, et al.: Improved outcome for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of Total Therapy Study XIIIB at St Jude Children's Research Hospital. Blood 104 (9): 2690-6, 2004.

  14. Tubergen DG, Gilchrist GS, O'Brien RT, et al.: Prevention of CNS disease in intermediate-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: comparison of cranial radiation and intrathecal methotrexate and the importance of systemic therapy: a Childrens Cancer Group report. J Clin Oncol 11 (3): 520-6, 1993.

  15. Conter V, Aricò M, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Extended intrathecal methotrexate may replace cranial irradiation for prevention of CNS relapse in children with intermediate-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated with Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster-based intensive chemotherapy. The Associazione Italiana di Ematologia ed Oncologia Pediatrica. J Clin Oncol 13 (10): 2497-502, 1995.

  16. Möricke A, Reiter A, Zimmermann M, et al.: Risk-adjusted therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia can decrease treatment burden and improve survival: treatment results of 2169 unselected pediatric and adolescent patients enrolled in the trial ALL-BFM 95. Blood 111 (9): 4477-89, 2008.

  17. Clarke M, Gaynon P, Hann I, et al.: CNS-directed therapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: Childhood ALL Collaborative Group overview of 43 randomized trials. J Clin Oncol 21 (9): 1798-809, 2003.

  18. Moghrabi A, Levy DE, Asselin B, et al.: Results of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01 for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 109 (3): 896-904, 2007.

  19. Matloub Y, Lindemulder S, Gaynon PS, et al.: Intrathecal triple therapy decreases central nervous system relapse but fails to improve event-free survival when compared with intrathecal methotrexate: results of the Children's Cancer Group (CCG) 1952 study for standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia, reported by the Children's Oncology Group. Blood 108 (4): 1165-73, 2006.

  20. Mitchell CD, Richards SM, Kinsey SE, et al.: Benefit of dexamethasone compared with prednisolone for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the UK Medical Research Council ALL97 randomized trial. Br J Haematol 129 (6): 734-45, 2005.

  21. Vrooman LM, Stevenson KE, Supko JG, et al.: Postinduction dexamethasone and individualized dosing of Escherichia Coli L-asparaginase each improve outcome of children and adolescents with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results from a randomized study--Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 00-01. J Clin Oncol 31 (9): 1202-10, 2013.

  22. Kadan-Lottick NS, Brouwers P, Breiger D, et al.: Comparison of neurocognitive functioning in children previously randomly assigned to intrathecal methotrexate compared with triple intrathecal therapy for the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 27 (35): 5986-92, 2009.

  23. Schrappe M, Reiter A, Ludwig WD, et al.: Improved outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia despite reduced use of anthracyclines and cranial radiotherapy: results of trial ALL-BFM 90. German-Austrian-Swiss ALL-BFM Study Group. Blood 95 (11): 3310-22, 2000.

  24. Sirvent N, Suciu S, Rialland X, et al.: Prognostic significance of the initial cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) involvement of children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) treated without cranial irradiation: results of European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Children Leukemia Group study 58881. Eur J Cancer 47 (2): 239-47, 2011.

  25. Moore IM, Espy KA, Kaufmann P, et al.: Cognitive consequences and central nervous system injury following treatment for childhood leukemia. Semin Oncol Nurs 16 (4): 279-90; discussion 291-9, 2000.

  26. Goshen Y, Stark B, Kornreich L, et al.: High incidence of meningioma in cranial irradiated survivors of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Pediatr Blood Cancer 49 (3): 294-7, 2007.

  27. Hijiya N, Hudson MM, Lensing S, et al.: Cumulative incidence of secondary neoplasms as a first event after childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. JAMA 297 (11): 1207-15, 2007.

  28. Mahoney DH Jr, Shuster JJ, Nitschke R, et al.: Acute neurotoxicity in children with B-precursor acute lymphoid leukemia: an association with intermediate-dose intravenous methotrexate and intrathecal triple therapy--a Pediatric Oncology Group study. J Clin Oncol 16 (5): 1712-22, 1998.

  29. Relling MV, Pui CH, Sandlund JT, et al.: Adverse effect of anticonvulsants on efficacy of chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Lancet 356 (9226): 285-90, 2000.

  30. Waber DP, Turek J, Catania L, et al.: Neuropsychological outcomes from a randomized trial of triple intrathecal chemotherapy compared with 18 Gy cranial radiation as CNS treatment in acute lymphoblastic leukemia: findings from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium Protocol 95-01. J Clin Oncol 25 (31): 4914-21, 2007.

  31. Jansen NC, Kingma A, Schuitema A, et al.: Neuropsychological outcome in chemotherapy-only-treated children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 26 (18): 3025-30, 2008.

  32. Espy KA, Moore IM, Kaufmann PM, et al.: Chemotherapeutic CNS prophylaxis and neuropsychologic change in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a prospective study. J Pediatr Psychol 26 (1): 1-9, 2001 Jan-Feb.

  33. Copeland DR, Moore BD 3rd, Francis DJ, et al.: Neuropsychologic effects of chemotherapy on children with cancer: a longitudinal study. J Clin Oncol 14 (10): 2826-35, 1996.

  34. von der Weid N, Mosimann I, Hirt A, et al.: Intellectual outcome in children and adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia treated with chemotherapy alone: age- and sex-related differences. Eur J Cancer 39 (3): 359-65, 2003.

  35. Waber DP, Carpentieri SC, Klar N, et al.: Cognitive sequelae in children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia with dexamethasone or prednisone. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 22 (3): 206-13, 2000 May-Jun.

  36. Kadan-Lottick NS, Brouwers P, Breiger D, et al.: A comparison of neurocognitive functioning in children previously randomized to dexamethasone or prednisone in the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 114 (9): 1746-52, 2009.

  37. Stubberfield TG, Byrne GC, Jones TW: Growth and growth hormone secretion after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood. 18-Gy versus 24-Gy cranial irradiation. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 17 (2): 167-71, 1995.

  38. Rowland JH, Glidewell OJ, Sibley RF, et al.: Effects of different forms of central nervous system prophylaxis on neuropsychologic function in childhood leukemia. J Clin Oncol 2 (12): 1327-35, 1984.

  39. Halberg FE, Kramer JH, Moore IM, et al.: Prophylactic cranial irradiation dose effects on late cognitive function in children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 22 (1): 13-6, 1992.

  40. Hill JM, Kornblith AB, Jones D, et al.: A comparative study of the long term psychosocial functioning of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivors treated by intrathecal methotrexate with or without cranial radiation. Cancer 82 (1): 208-18, 1998.

  41. Pui CH, Cheng C, Leung W, et al.: Extended follow-up of long-term survivors of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 349 (7): 640-9, 2003.

  42. Jankovic M, Brouwers P, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Association of 1800 cGy cranial irradiation with intellectual function in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. ISPACC. International Study Group on Psychosocial Aspects of Childhood Cancer. Lancet 344 (8917): 224-7, 1994.

  43. Sklar C, Mertens A, Walter A, et al.: Final height after treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: comparison of no cranial irradiation with 1800 and 2400 centigrays of cranial irradiation. J Pediatr 123 (1): 59-64, 1993.

  44. Christie D, Leiper AD, Chessells JM, et al.: Intellectual performance after presymptomatic cranial radiotherapy for leukaemia: effects of age and sex. Arch Dis Child 73 (2): 136-40, 1995.

  45. Waber DP, Tarbell NJ, Kahn CM, et al.: The relationship of sex and treatment modality to neuropsychologic outcome in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 10 (5): 810-7, 1992.

  46. Waber DP, Shapiro BL, Carpentieri SC, et al.: Excellent therapeutic efficacy and minimal late neurotoxicity in children treated with 18 grays of cranial radiation therapy for high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a 7-year follow-up study of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Consortium Protocol 87-01. Cancer 92 (1): 15-22, 2001.

  47. Waber DP, Silverman LB, Catania L, et al.: Outcomes of a randomized trial of hyperfractionated cranial radiation therapy for treatment of high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia: therapeutic efficacy and neurotoxicity. J Clin Oncol 22 (13): 2701-7, 2004.

  48. Löning L, Zimmermann M, Reiter A, et al.: Secondary neoplasms subsequent to Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood: significantly lower risk without cranial radiotherapy. Blood 95 (9): 2770-5, 2000.

  49. Bhatia S, Sather HN, Pabustan OB, et al.: Low incidence of second neoplasms among children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after 1983. Blood 99 (12): 4257-64, 2002.

  50. Filley CM, Kleinschmidt-DeMasters BK: Toxic leukoencephalopathy. N Engl J Med 345 (6): 425-32, 2001.

Postinduction Treatment for Specific ALL Subgroups

T-Cell ALL

Historically, patients with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) have had a worse prognosis than children with precursor B-cell ALL. With current treatment regimens, outcomes for children with T-cell ALL are now approaching those achieved for children with precursor B-cell ALL. For example, the 10-year overall survival (OS) for children with T-cell ALL treated on the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) DFCI-95001 (NCT00004034) trial was 90.1% compared with 88.7% for patients with B-cell disease.[1] However, in a review of a large number of patients treated on COG trials over a 15-year period, T-cell immunophenotype still proved to be a negative prognostic factor on multivariate analysis.[2]

Treatment options

  1. Protocols of the former Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) treated children with T-cell ALL differently from children with B-lineage ALL. The POG-9404 protocol for patients with T-cell ALL was designed to evaluate the role of high-dose methotrexate. The multiagent chemotherapy regimen for this protocol was based on the DFCI-87001 regimen.[3]
    • Results of the POG-9404 study indicated that the addition of high-dose methotrexate to the DFCI-based chemotherapy regimen resulted in significantly improved event-free survival (EFS) in patients with T-cell ALL (10-year EFS, 78% for those randomly assigned to high-dose methotrexate versus 68% for those randomly assigned to therapy without high-dose methotrexate, P = .05).
    • High-dose methotrexate was associated with a lower incidence of relapses involving the central nervous system (CNS).[4] This POG study was the first clinical trial to provide evidence that high-dose methotrexate can improve outcome for children with T-cell ALL. High-dose asparaginase, doxorubicin, and prophylactic cranial irradiation were also important components of this regimen.[1][4]
  2. Protocols of the former Children’s Cancer Group (CCG) treated children with T-cell ALL on the same treatment regimens as children with precursor B-cell ALL, basing protocol and treatment assignment on the patients' clinical characteristics (e.g., age and white blood cell [WBC] count) and the disease response to initial therapy. Most children with T-cell ALL meet National Cancer Institute (NCI) high-risk criteria.
    • Results from CCG-1961 for high-risk ALL including T-cell ALL showed that an augmented Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (BFM) regimen with a single delayed intensification course produced the best results for patients with morphologic rapid response to initial induction therapy (estimated 5-year EFS, 83%).[5][6] Almost 60% of events in this group, however, were isolated CNS relapses.
    • Overall results from POG-9404 and CCG-1961 were similar, although POG-9404 used cranial radiation for every patient, while CCG-1961 used cranial radiation only for patients with slow morphologic response.[6][4]
    • Among children with NCI standard-risk T-cell ALL, the EFS for those treated on CCG-1952 and COG-1991 studies was inferior to the EFS for those treated on the POG-9404 study.[7]
  3. In the Children's Oncology Group (COG), children with T-cell ALL are not treated on the same protocols as children with precursor B-cell ALL. Pilot studies from the COG have demonstrated the feasibility of incorporating nelarabine (a nucleoside analog with demonstrated activity in patients with relapsed and refractory T-cell lymphoblastic disease) [8][9] in the context of a BFM regimen for patients with newly diagnosed T-cell ALL. The pilot study showed a 5-year EFS rate of 73% for all patients receiving nelarabine and 69% for those patients with a slow early response.[10]
  4. The role of prophylactic cranial radiation in the treatment of T-cell ALL is controversial. Some groups, such as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (SJCRH) and the Dutch Childhood Oncology Group (DCOG), do not use cranial radiation in first-line treatment of ALL, while other groups, such as DFCI, COG, and BFM, use radiation for the majority of patients with T-cell ALL.

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for T-cell ALL

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for T-cell ALL include the following:

  1. COG-AALL0434 (NCT00408005) (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed T-Cell ALL or T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma):

    COG-AALL0434 is a phase III trial utilizing a modified augmented BFM regimen for patients aged 1 to 30 years with T-cell ALL. Patients are classified into one of three risk groups (low, intermediate, or high) based on NCI age/leukocyte criteria, CNS status at diagnosis, morphologic marrow response on days 15 and 29, and minimal residual disease (MRD) level at day 29. The objectives of the trial include the following:

    • To determine the safety and efficacy of adding nelarabine to the modified augmented BFM regimen in high- and intermediate-risk patients.
    • To determine the relative safety and efficacy of high-dose (5 g/m2) versus Capizzi escalating lower-dose methotrexate without rescue plus PEG-asparaginase during interim maintenance.
    • To test the efficacy of treating NCI standard-risk T-cell ALL patients, without CNS disease, who are rapid responders (about 15% of patients) without cranial radiation.
  2. DFCI-11-001 (NCT01574274) (SC-PEG Asparaginase versus Oncaspar in Pediatric ALL and Lymphoblastic Lymphoma):

    Patients with T-cell ALL are eligible to enroll on a DFCI ALL Consortium protocol that is comparing the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of two forms of intravenous PEG-L-asparaginase (pegaspargase [Oncaspar] and calaspargase pegol [SC-PEG]). Patients will be randomly assigned to receive a single dose of one of these preparations during multiagent induction, and then either pegaspargase every 2 weeks (15 doses total) or calaspargase pegol every 3 weeks (10 doses total) during the 30-week consolidation phase.

    This protocol is also testing whether antibiotic prophylaxis (with fluoroquinolones) reduces rates of bacteremia and other serious bacterial infections during the remission induction phase. All T-cell patients are treated on the high-risk arm of this trial, regardless of other presenting characteristics.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with T-cell childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

Infants With ALL

Infant ALL is uncommon, representing approximately 2% to 4% of cases of childhood ALL.[11] Because of their distinctive biological characteristics and their high risk of leukemia recurrence, infants with ALL are treated on protocols specifically designed for this patient population. Common therapeutic themes of the intensive chemotherapy regimens used to treat infants with ALL are the inclusion of postinduction intensification courses with high doses of cytarabine and methotrexate.[12][13][14] Despite intensification of therapy, long-term EFS rates remain below 50%. Infants with congenital leukemia (diagnosed within 1 month of birth) have a particularly poor outcome (17% OS).[15][Level of evidence: 2A].

For infants with MLL gene rearrangement, the EFS rates continue to be in the 17% to 40% range.[12][13][15][16][17][Level of evidence: 2A] Factors predicting poor outcome for infants with MLL translocations include the following:[13]; [18][Level of evidence: 3iDii]

  • A very young age (<6 months).
  • Extremely high presenting leukocyte count (≥200,000–300,000/μL).
  • High levels of MRD at the end of induction and consolidation phases of treatment.

Treatment options for infants with MLL translocations

Infants with MLL gene translocations are generally treated on intensified chemotherapy regimens using agents not typically incorporated into frontline therapy for older children with ALL. However, despite these intensified approaches, EFS rates remain poor for these patients.

Evidence (intensified chemotherapy regimens for infants with MLL translocations):

  1. The international Interfant clinical trials consortium utilized a cytarabine-intensive chemotherapy regimen, with increased exposure to both low- and high-dose cytarabine during the first few months of therapy, resulting in a 5-year EFS of 37% for infants with MLL translocations.[13]
  2. The COG tested intensification of therapy with a regimen including multiple doses of high-dose methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, and etoposide, resulting in a 5-year EFS of 34%.[12]

The role of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) during first remission in infants with MLL gene translocations remains controversial.

Evidence (allogeneic HSCT in first remission for infants with MLL translocations):

  1. On a Japanese clinical trial conducted between 1998 and 2002, all infants with MLL-rearrangement were intended to proceed to allogeneic HSCT from the best available donor (related, unrelated, or umbilical cord) 3 to 5 months after diagnosis.[19]
    • The 3-year EFS for all enrolled infants was 44%. This result was due, in part, to the high frequency of early relapses, even with intensive chemotherapy; of the 41 infants with MLL-rearrangement on that study who achieved complete remission (CR), 11 infants (27%) relapsed before proceeding to transplant.
  2. In a COG report that included 189 infants treated on CCG or POG infant ALL protocols between 1996 and 2000, there was no difference in EFS between patients who underwent HSCT in first CR and those who received chemotherapy alone.[20]
  3. The Interfant clinical trials group, after adjusting for waiting time to transplantation, also did not observe any difference in disease-free survival (DFS) in high-risk infants (defined by prednisone response) with MLL translocations treated on the Interfant-99 trial with either allogeneic HSCT in first CR or chemotherapy alone.[13]
    • In a subset analysis from the same trial, allogeneic HSCT in first remission was associated with a significantly better DFS for infants with MLL translocations who were younger than 6 months at diagnosis and had either a poor response to steroids at day 8 or leukocyte counts of at least 300,000/µL.[21] In this subset, HSCT in first remission was associated with a 64% reduction in the risk of failure resulting from relapse or death compared with chemotherapy alone.

Treatment options for infants without MLL translocations

The optimal treatment for infants without MLL translocations also remains unclear.

  1. On the Interfant-99 trial, patients without MLL translocations achieved a relatively favorable outcome with the cytarabine-intensive treatment regimen (4-year EFS was 74%).[13]
  2. A favorable outcome for this subset of patients was obtained in a Japanese study using therapy comparable to that used to treat older children with ALL;[16] however, that study was limited by small numbers (n = 22) and a highly unusual gender distribution (91% males).

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for infants with ALL

Treatment options under clinical evaluation include the following:

  1. Interfant-06 Study Group trial (DCOG-INTERFANT-06) (Different Therapies in Treating Infants With Newly Diagnosed Acute Leukemia): The Interfant-06 Study Group is conducting an international collaborative randomized trial (including sites in the United States) to test whether an ALL/acute myeloid leukemia hybrid regimen might improve outcomes for infants with MLL-rearranged ALL. The role of allogeneic transplantation in first remission is also being assessed in high-risk patients (defined as infants with MLL-rearranged ALL, younger than 6 months, and WBC >300,000 /µL) or poor peripheral blood response to steroid prophase. Infants with MLL-rearranged ALL with high MRD at end of consolidation phase are also eligible for allogeneic HSCT in first remission regardless of other presenting features.
  2. COG-AALL0631(Combination Chemotherapy With or Without Lestaurtinib in Treating Infants With Newly Diagnosed ALL): In this COG study of infant ALL, an FLT3 inhibitor, lestaurtinib, is being studied in infants with MLL rearrangement. Infants with MLL rearrangement are known to have a high level of FLT3 mRNA expression and lestaurtinib has been shown to selectively kill MLL-rearranged ALL cells in vitro and in vivo.[22] This study combines lestaurtinib with intensive chemotherapy previously utilized in POG-P9407. An initial safety/activity phase has been completed and the efficacy phase in which children will be randomly assigned to chemotherapy with or without lestaurtinib is now underway. Infants with germline MLL are nonrandomly assigned to less-intensive chemotherapy without lestaurtinib.

Adolescents and Young Adults With ALL

Adolescents and young adults with ALL have been recognized as high risk for decades. Outcomes in almost all studies of treatment are inferior in this age group compared with children younger than 10 years.[23][24][25] The reasons for this difference include more frequent presentation of adverse prognostic factors at diagnosis, including the following:

  • T-cell immunophenotype.
  • Philadelphia chromosome–positivity (Ph+).
  • Lower incidence of favorable cytogenetic abnormalities.

In addition to more frequent adverse prognostic factors, patients in this age group have higher rates of treatment-related mortality [24][25][26][27] and non-adherence to therapy.[26][28]

Treatment options

Studies from the United States and France were among the first to identify the difference in outcome based on treatment regimens.[29] Other studies have confirmed that older adolescent and young adult patients fare better on pediatric rather than adult regimens.[29][30][31][32][33]; [34][Level of evidence: 2A] These study results are summarized in Table 3.

Given the relatively favorable outcome that can be obtained in these patients with chemotherapy regimens used for high-risk pediatric ALL, there is no role for the routine use of allogeneic HSCT for adolescents and young adults with ALL in first remission.[25]

Evidence (pediatric treatment regimen):

  1. Investigators reported on 197 patients aged 16 to 21 years treated on the CCG study (a pediatric ALL regimen) who showed a 7-year EFS of 63% compared with 124 adolescents and young adults treated on the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) study (an adult ALL regimen) with a 7-year EFS of 34%.[29]
  2. A study from France of patients aged 15 to 20 years and diagnosed between 1993 and 1999 demonstrated superior outcome for patients treated on a pediatric trial (67%; 5-year EFS) compared with patients treated on an adult trial (41%; 5-year EFS).[35]
  3. In the COG high-risk study (CCG-1961), the 5-year EFS rate for 262 patients aged 16 to 21 years was 71.5%.[25][Level of evidence: 1iiDi] For rapid responders randomly assigned to early intensive postinduction therapy on the augmented intensity arms of this study, the 5-year EFS rate was 82% (n = 88).
  4. The DFCI ALL Consortium reported that a study of 51 adolescents aged 15 to 18 years in a pediatric trial had a 5-year EFS of 78%.[31]
  5. In an SJCRH study, 44 adolescents aged 15 to 18 years had an EFS of approximately 85% ± 5%.[24]
  6. In a Spanish study, 35 adolescents (aged 15–18 years) and 46 young adults (aged 19–30 years) with standard-risk ALL were treated with a pediatric-based regimen.[34][Level of evidence: 2A]
    • EFS rate was 61%.
    • The OS rate was 69%.
    • There were no differences in outcome between adolescents and young adults.

Other studies have confirmed that older adolescent patients and young adults fare better on pediatric rather than adult regimens (see Table 3).[30][32]; [34][Level of evidence: 2A]

The reason that adolescents and young adults achieve superior outcomes with pediatric regimens is not known, although possible explanations include the following: [30]

  • Treatment setting (i.e., site experience in treating ALL).
  • Adherence to protocol therapy.
  • The components of protocol therapy.
Table 3. Outcome According to Treatment Protocol for Adolescents and Young Adults with ALL

Site and Study Group

Adolescent and Young Adult Patients (No.)

Median age (y)

Survival (%)

United States[29]

CCG (Pediatric)

197

16

67, OS 7 y

CALGB (Adult)

124

19

46

France[35]

FRALLE 93 (Pediatric)

77

16

67 EFS

LALA 94

100

18

41

Italy[36]

AEIOP (Pediatric)

150

15

80, OS 2 y

GIMEMA (Adult)

95

16

71

Netherlands[37]

DCOG (Pediatric)

47

12

71 EFS

HOVON

44

20

38

Sweden[38]

NOPHO 92 (Pediatric)

36

16

74, OS 5 y

Adult ALL

99

18

39

United Kingdom[32]

MRC ALL (Pediatric)

61

15–17

71, OS 5 y

UKALL XII (Adult)

67

15–17

56

ALL = acute lymphoblastic leukemia; EFS = event-free survival; OS = overall survival.

AEIOP = Associazione Italiana Ematologia Oncologia Pediatrica; CALGB = Cancer and Leukemia Group B; CCG = Children's Cancer Group; DCOG = Dutch Childhood Oncology Group; FRALLE = French Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia; GIMEMA = Gruppo Italiano Malattie e Matologiche dell'Adulto; HOVON = Dutch-Belgian Hemato-Oncology Cooperative Group; LALA = France-Belgium Group for Lymphoblastic Acute Leukemia in Adults; MRC = Medical Research Council (United Kingdom); NOPHO = Nordic Society for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology; UKALL = United Kingdom Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

Osteonecrosis

Adolescents with ALL appear to be at higher risk than younger children for developing therapy-related complications, including osteonecrosis, deep venous thromboses, and pancreatitis.[31][39] Before the use of postinduction intensification for treatment of ALL, osteonecrosis was infrequent. The improvement in outcome for children and adolescents aged 10 years and older was accompanied by an increased incidence of osteonecrosis.

The weight-bearing joints are affected in 95% of patients who develop osteonecrosis and operative interventions are needed for management of symptoms and impaired mobility in more than 40% of cases. The majority of the cases are diagnosed within the first 2 years of therapy and often the symptoms are recognized during maintenance.

Evidence (osteonecrosis):

  1. In the CCG-1961 high-risk ALL study, alternate-week dosing of dexamethasone was compared with standard continuous dexamethasone during delayed intensification to see if the osteonecrosis risk could be reduced.[39]
    • The median age at symptom onset was 16 years.
    • The cumulative incidence was higher in adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 21 years (20% at 5 years) than in those aged 10 to 15 years (9.9%) or in patients aged 1 to 9 years (1%).
    • Operative interventions are needed for management of symptoms and impaired mobility in more than 40% of cases.
    • The use of alternate-week dosing of dexamethasone as compared with standard continuous dexamethasone during delayed intensification in CCG-1961 reduced the risk of osteonecrosis. The greatest impact was seen in females aged 16 to 21 years, who showed the highest incidence of osteonecrosis with standard therapy containing continuous dexamethasone; osteonecrosis was reduced with alternate-week dexamethasone postinduction (57.6% to 5.6%).

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for adolescent and young adult patients with ALL

Treatment options under clinical evaluation include the following:

  1. COG-AALL0434 (NCT00408005) (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed T-Cell ALL or T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): This is a phase III trial for patients aged 1 to 30 years with T-cell ALL utilizing a modified augmented BFM regimen. Patients are classified into one of three risk groups (low, intermediate, or high) based on NCI age/leukocyte criteria, CNS status at diagnosis, morphologic marrow response on days 15 and 29, and MRD level at day 29. The following are objectives of the trial: (1) to determine the safety and efficacy of adding nelarabine to the modified augmented BFM regimen in high- and intermediate-risk patients, (2) to determine the relative safety and efficacy of high-dose versus Capizzi methotrexate during interim maintenance, and (3) to test the efficacy of treating low-risk T-cell ALL patients without cranial radiation.
  2. COG-AALL1131 (Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Newly Diagnosed High-Risk ALL): The COG-AALL1131 protocol for patients with high-risk B-precursor ALL includes a randomized comparison of triple intrathecal chemotherapy (methotrexate, cytarabine, and hydrocortisone) with intrathecal methotrexate, with the objective of determining whether triple intrathecal chemotherapy reduces CNS-relapse rates and improves overall EFS. Patients with very high-risk disease include those who, at diagnosis:
    • Are aged 13 years or older.
    • Have 0.01% or more detectable MRD at end induction.
    • Have CNS3 disease.
    • Have iAMP21.
    • Have severe hypodiploidy, and/or
    • Have an M3 marrow on day 29 (induction failure).

    These patients are eligible for a three-arm study designed to assess the efficacy of either clofarabine/etoposide/cyclophosphamide versus cyclophosphamide/etoposide versus the standard cyclophosphamide/thioguanine/cytarabine combination during the consolidation and late intensification phases.

Philadelphia Chromosome–positive ALL

Philadelphia chromosome–positive (Ph+) ALL is seen in about 3% of pediatric ALL cases, increases in adolescence, and is seen in 15% to 25% of adults. In the past, this subtype of ALL has been recognized as extremely difficult to treat with poor outcome. In 2000, an international pediatric leukemia group reported a 7-year EFS of 25%, with an OS of 36%.[40] In 2010, the same group reported a 7-year EFS of 31% and an overall survival of 44% in Ph+ ALL patients treated without tyrosine kinase inhibitors.[41] Treatment of this subgroup has evolved from emphasis on aggressive chemotherapy, to bone marrow transplantation, and currently to combination therapy using chemotherapy plus tyrosine kinase inhibitor.

Treatment options

Pre-tyrosine kinase inhibitor era

Before the use of imatinib mesylate, HSCT from a matched sibling donor was the treatment of choice for patients with Ph+ ALL.[42][43][44] Data to support this include a retrospective multigroup analysis of children and young adults with Ph+ ALL, in which HSCT from a matched sibling donor was associated with a better outcome than standard (pre-imatinib mesylate) chemotherapy.[40] In this retrospective analysis, Ph+ ALL patients undergoing HSCT from an unrelated donor had a very poor outcome. However, in a follow-up study by the same group evaluating outcomes in the subsequent decade (pre-imatinib mesylate era), transplantation with matched-related or matched-unrelated donors were equivalent. DFS at the 5-year time point showed an advantage for transplantation in first remission compared with chemotherapy that was borderline significant (P = .049), and OS was also higher for transplantation compared with chemotherapy, although the advantage at 5 years was not significant.[41]

Factors significantly associated with favorable prognosis in the pre-tyrosine kinase inhibitor era included the following:

  • Younger age at diagnosis.[41]
  • Lower leukocyte count at diagnosis.[41]
  • Early response measures.[41][45][46]
  • Ph+ ALL with a rapid morphologic response or rapid peripheral blood response to induction therapy.[41][45]

Following MRD by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction for the BCR-ABL fusion transcript may also be useful to help predict outcome for Ph+ patients.[47][48][49]

Tyrosine kinase inhibitor era

Imatinib mesylate is a selective inhibitor of the BCR-ABL protein kinase. Phase I and II studies of single-agent imatinib in children and adults with relapsed or refractory Ph+ ALL have demonstrated relatively high response rates, although these responses tended to be of short duration.[50][51]

Clinical trials in adults and children with Ph+ ALL have demonstrated the feasibility of administering imatinib mesylate in combination with multiagent chemotherapy.[52][53][54] Preliminary outcome of results for Ph+ ALL demonstrated a better outcome after HSCT if imatinib was given before or after transplant.[55][56][57][58]

Evidence (imatinib mesylate):

  1. The COG-AALL0031 study evaluated whether imatinib mesylate could be incorporated into an intensive chemotherapy regimen for children with Ph+ ALL. Patients received imatinib mesylate in conjunction with chemotherapy during postinduction therapy. Some children proceeded to allogeneic HSCT after two cycles of consolidation chemotherapy with imatinib mesylate, while other patients received imatinib mesylate in combination with chemotherapy throughout all treatment phases.[54]
    • The 3-year EFS for the 25 patients who received intensive chemotherapy with continuous dosing of imatinib mesylate is 87.7% ± 10.9%. These patients fared better than historic controls treated with chemotherapy alone (without imatinib mesylate), and at least as well as the other patients on the trial who underwent allogeneic transplantation. Longer follow-up is necessary to determine whether this novel treatment improves cure rate or merely prolongs DFS.
  2. A nonrandomized study reported the outcome in 16 pediatric patients with Ph+ ALL who were treated with chemotherapy, imatinib, and allogeneic HSCT.[58]
    • With a median follow-up of 65 months, the 5-year EFS was 81% for patients who received imatinib compared with 30% (P = .01) for a historic control group treated similarly, but without imatinib.[59] Of note, only one of the 16 patients received prophylactic imatinib posttransplant.
  3. The EsPhALL trial tested whether imatinib (administered discontinuously) given in the context of intensive chemotherapy improves outcome for pediatric Ph+ ALL patients, most of whom (80%) received an allogeneic HSCT in first CR. Patients were classified as either good risk or poor risk based on early response measures and remission status at the end of induction. Good- risk patients (N = 90) were randomly assigned to receive imatinib or not; poor-risk patients (N = 70) were directly assigned to imatinib. Interpretation of this study is limited due to the high noncompliance rate with randomized assignment in good-risk patients and early closure before reaching goal accrual due to publication of the results of the COG AALL1131 trial on which imatinib had been given continuously with chemotherapy. The overall DFS of patients treated on this trial appeared to be better than historic controls, and when analyzed as-treated (and not by intent-to-treat), good-risk patients who received imatinib had a superior DFS. The EsPhALL trial has since been amended to test continuous dosing of imatinib; results are pending.[60]

Dasatinib, a second-generation inhibitor of tyrosine kinases, is currently being studied in the initial treatment of Ph+ ALL. Dasatinib has shown significant activity in the CNS, both in a mouse model and a series of patients with CNS-positive leukemia.[61] The results of a phase I trial of dasatinib in pediatric patients indicated that once-daily dosing was associated with an acceptable toxicity profile, with few nonhematologic grade 3 or 4 adverse events.[62]

Treatment options under clinical evaluation for Philadelphia chromosome–positive ALL

Treatment options under clinical evaluation include the following:

  1. COG-AALL1122 (NCT01460160) (Pediatric Ph+ ALL): In this international collaborative study, patients receive dasatinib, which has increased affinity for BCR/ABL1, in conjunction with a chemotherapy backbone based on the European EsPhALL regimen. Allogeneic HSCT in first remission is reserved for those patients with suboptimal early response to therapy, as measured by morphology and MRD techniques. The goals of this study include the following:
    • To determine the safety and feasibility of administering dasatinib with this chemotherapy regimen.
    • To determine the 3-year EFS of patients treated in this manner.
    • To compare outcomes with patients treated on prior trials using similar chemotherapy with imatinib mesylate.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with Philadelphia chromosome positive childhood precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

References:

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  2. Hunger SP, Lu X, Devidas M, et al.: Improved survival for children and adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia between 1990 and 2005: a report from the children's oncology group. J Clin Oncol 30 (14): 1663-9, 2012.

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  17. Biondi A, Rizzari C, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Role of treatment intensification in infants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of two consecutive AIEOP studies. Haematologica 91 (4): 534-7, 2006.

  18. Van der Velden VH, Corral L, Valsecchi MG, et al.: Prognostic significance of minimal residual disease in infants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated within the Interfant-99 protocol. Leukemia 23 (6): 1073-9, 2009.

  19. Kosaka Y, Koh K, Kinukawa N, et al.: Infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia with MLL gene rearrangements: outcome following intensive chemotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Blood 104 (12): 3527-34, 2004.

  20. Dreyer ZE, Dinndorf PA, Camitta B, et al.: Analysis of the role of hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation in infants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in first remission and MLL gene rearrangements: a report from the Children's Oncology Group. J Clin Oncol 29 (2): 214-22, 2011.

  21. Mann G, Attarbaschi A, Schrappe M, et al.: Improved outcome with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in a poor prognostic subgroup of infants with mixed-lineage-leukemia (MLL)-rearranged acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results from the Interfant-99 Study. Blood 116 (15): 2644-50, 2010.

  22. Brown P, Levis M, McIntyre E, et al.: Combinations of the FLT3 inhibitor CEP-701 and chemotherapy synergistically kill infant and childhood MLL-rearranged ALL cells in a sequence-dependent manner. Leukemia 20 (8): 1368-76, 2006.

  23. Nachman J: Clinical characteristics, biologic features and outcome for young adult patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Br J Haematol 130 (2): 166-73, 2005.

  24. Pui CH, Pei D, Campana D, et al.: Improved prognosis for older adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. J Clin Oncol 29 (4): 386-91, 2011.

  25. Nachman JB, La MK, Hunger SP, et al.: Young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have an excellent outcome with chemotherapy alone and benefit from intensive postinduction treatment: a report from the children's oncology group. J Clin Oncol 27 (31): 5189-94, 2009.

  26. Pichler H, Reismüller B, Steiner M, et al.: The inferior prognosis of adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is caused by a higher rate of treatment-related mortality and not an increased relapse rate--a population-based analysis of 25 years of the Austrian ALL-BFM (Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster) Study Group. Br J Haematol 161 (4): 556-65, 2013.

  27. Burke MJ, Gossai N, Wagner JE, et al.: Survival differences between adolescents/young adults and children with B precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant 19 (1): 138-42, 2013.

  28. Bhatia S, Landier W, Shangguan M, et al.: Nonadherence to oral mercaptopurine and risk of relapse in Hispanic and non-Hispanic white children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a report from the children's oncology group. J Clin Oncol 30 (17): 2094-101, 2012.

  29. Stock W, La M, Sanford B, et al.: What determines the outcomes for adolescents and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated on cooperative group protocols? A comparison of Children's Cancer Group and Cancer and Leukemia Group B studies. Blood 112 (5): 1646-54, 2008.

  30. Ramanujachar R, Richards S, Hann I, et al.: Adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: emerging from the shadow of paediatric and adult treatment protocols. Pediatr Blood Cancer 47 (6): 748-56, 2006.

  31. Barry E, DeAngelo DJ, Neuberg D, et al.: Favorable outcome for adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated on Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Consortium Protocols. J Clin Oncol 25 (7): 813-9, 2007.

  32. Ramanujachar R, Richards S, Hann I, et al.: Adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: outcome on UK national paediatric (ALL97) and adult (UKALLXII/E2993) trials. Pediatr Blood Cancer 48 (3): 254-61, 2007.

  33. Ram R, Wolach O, Vidal L, et al.: Adolescents and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a better outcome when treated with pediatric-inspired regimens: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Hematol 87 (5): 472-8, 2012.

  34. Ribera JM, Oriol A, Sanz MA, et al.: Comparison of the results of the treatment of adolescents and young adults with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia with the Programa Español de Tratamiento en Hematología pediatric-based protocol ALL-96. J Clin Oncol 26 (11): 1843-9, 2008.

  35. Boissel N, Auclerc MF, Lhéritier V, et al.: Should adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia be treated as old children or young adults? Comparison of the French FRALLE-93 and LALA-94 trials. J Clin Oncol 21 (5): 774-80, 2003.

  36. Testi AM, Valsecchi MG, Conter V, et al.: Difference in outcome of adolescents with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) enrolled in pediatric (AIEOP) and adult (GIMEMA) protocols. [Abstract] Blood 104: A-1954, 2004.

  37. de Bont JM, van der Holt B, Dekker AW, et al.: [Adolescents with acute lymphatic leukaemia achieve significantly better results when treated following Dutch paediatric oncology protocols than with adult protocols]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd 149 (8): 400-6, 2005.

  38. Hallböök H, Gustafsson G, Smedmyr B, et al.: Treatment outcome in young adults and children >10 years of age with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Sweden: a comparison between a pediatric protocol and an adult protocol. Cancer 107 (7): 1551-61, 2006.

  39. Mattano LA Jr, Devidas M, Nachman JB, et al.: Effect of alternate-week versus continuous dexamethasone scheduling on the risk of osteonecrosis in paediatric patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results from the CCG-1961 randomised cohort trial. Lancet Oncol 13 (9): 906-15, 2012.

  40. Aricò M, Valsecchi MG, Camitta B, et al.: Outcome of treatment in children with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 342 (14): 998-1006, 2000.

  41. Aricò M, Schrappe M, Hunger SP, et al.: Clinical outcome of children with newly diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia treated between 1995 and 2005. J Clin Oncol 28 (31): 4755-61, 2010.

  42. Mori T, Manabe A, Tsuchida M, et al.: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation in first remission rescues children with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: Tokyo Children's Cancer Study Group (TCCSG) studies L89-12 and L92-13. Med Pediatr Oncol 37 (5): 426-31, 2001.

  43. Dombret H, Gabert J, Boiron JM, et al.: Outcome of treatment in adults with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia--results of the prospective multicenter LALA-94 trial. Blood 100 (7): 2357-66, 2002.

  44. Hahn T, Wall D, Camitta B, et al.: The role of cytotoxic therapy with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in the therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children: an evidence-based review. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant 11 (11): 823-61, 2005.

  45. Roy A, Bradburn M, Moorman AV, et al.: Early response to induction is predictive of survival in childhood Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia: results of the Medical Research Council ALL 97 trial. Br J Haematol 129 (1): 35-44, 2005.

  46. Schrappe M, Aricò M, Harbott J, et al.: Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia: good initial steroid response allows early prediction of a favorable treatment outcome. Blood 92 (8): 2730-41, 1998.

  47. Cazzaniga G, Lanciotti M, Rossi V, et al.: Prospective molecular monitoring of BCR/ABL transcript in children with Ph+ acute lymphoblastic leukaemia unravels differences in treatment response. Br J Haematol 119 (2): 445-53, 2002.

  48. Jones LK, Saha V: Philadelphia positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia of childhood. Br J Haematol 130 (4): 489-500, 2005.

  49. Lee S, Kim YJ, Chung NG, et al.: The extent of minimal residual disease reduction after the first 4-week imatinib therapy determines outcome of allogeneic stem cell transplantation in adults with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Cancer 115 (3): 561-70, 2009.

  50. Champagne MA, Capdeville R, Krailo M, et al.: Imatinib mesylate (STI571) for treatment of children with Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemia: results from a Children's Oncology Group phase 1 study. Blood 104 (9): 2655-60, 2004.

  51. Ottmann OG, Druker BJ, Sawyers CL, et al.: A phase 2 study of imatinib in patients with relapsed or refractory Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoid leukemias. Blood 100 (6): 1965-71, 2002.

  52. Thomas DA, Faderl S, Cortes J, et al.: Treatment of Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphocytic leukemia with hyper-CVAD and imatinib mesylate. Blood 103 (12): 4396-407, 2004.

  53. Yanada M, Takeuchi J, Sugiura I, et al.: High complete remission rate and promising outcome by combination of imatinib and chemotherapy for newly diagnosed BCR-ABL-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a phase II study by the Japan Adult Leukemia Study Group. J Clin Oncol 24 (3): 460-6, 2006.

  54. Schultz KR, Bowman WP, Aledo A, et al.: Improved early event-free survival with imatinib in Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: a children's oncology group study. J Clin Oncol 27 (31): 5175-81, 2009.

  55. Burke MJ, Trotz B, Luo X, et al.: Allo-hematopoietic cell transplantation for Ph chromosome-positive ALL: impact of imatinib on relapse and survival. Bone Marrow Transplant 43 (2): 107-13, 2009.

  56. Lee S, Kim YJ, Min CK, et al.: The effect of first-line imatinib interim therapy on the outcome of allogeneic stem cell transplantation in adults with newly diagnosed Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood 105 (9): 3449-57, 2005.

  57. de Labarthe A, Rousselot P, Huguet-Rigal F, et al.: Imatinib combined with induction or consolidation chemotherapy in patients with de novo Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia: results of the GRAAPH-2003 study. Blood 109 (4): 1408-13, 2007.

  58. Rives S, Estella J, Gómez P, et al.: Intermediate dose of imatinib in combination with chemotherapy followed by allogeneic stem cell transplantation improves early outcome in paediatric Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL): results of the Spanish Cooperative Group SHOP studies ALL-94, ALL-99 and ALL-2005. Br J Haematol 154 (5): 600-11, 2011.

  59. Rives S, Camós M, Estella J, et al.: Longer follow-up confirms major improvement in outcome in children and adolescents with Philadelphia chromosome acute lymphoblastic leukaemia treated with continuous imatinib and haematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Results from the Spanish Cooperative Study SHOP/ALL-2005. Br J Haematol 162 (3): 419-21, 2013.

  60. Biondi A, Schrappe M, De Lorenzo P, et al.: Imatinib after induction for treatment of children and adolescents with Philadelphia-chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (EsPhALL): a randomised, open-label, intergroup study. Lancet Oncol 13 (9): 936-45, 2012.

  61. Porkka K, Koskenvesa P, Lundán T, et al.: Dasatinib crosses the blood-brain barrier and is an efficient therapy for central nervous system Philadelphia chromosome-positive leukemia. Blood 112 (4): 1005-12, 2008.

  62. Zwaan CM, Rizzari C, Mechinaud F, et al.: Dasatinib in children and adolescents with relapsed or refractory leukemia: results of the CA180-018 phase I dose-escalation study of the Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer Consortium. J Clin Oncol 31 (19): 2460-8, 2013.

Treatment of Relapsed Childhood ALL

Prognostic Factors After First Relapse of Childhood ALL

The prognosis for a child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) whose disease recurs depends on multiple factors.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]; [15][Level of evidence: 3iiDi]

The two most important prognostic risk factors after first relapse of childhood ALL are the following:

  • Site of relapse.
  • Time from diagnosis to relapse.

Other prognostic factors include the following:

  • Patient characteristics (e.g., age and peripheral blast count at time of relapse).
  • Risk group classification at initial diagnosis.
  • Response to reinduction therapy.
  • Cytogenetics/genomic alterations.
  • Immunophenotype.

Site of relapse

Patients who have isolated extramedullary relapse fare better than those who have relapse involving the marrow. In some studies, patients with combined marrow/extramedullary relapse have a better prognosis than those with a marrow relapse.[5][13]

Time from diagnosis to relapse

For patients with relapsed B-precursor ALL, early relapses fare worse than later relapses, and marrow relapses fare worse than isolated extramedullary relapses. For example, survival rates range from less than 20% for patients with marrow relapses occurring within 18 months from diagnosis to 40% to 50% for those whose relapses occur more than 36 months from diagnosis.[5][13]

For patients with isolated central nervous system (CNS) relapses, the overall survival (OS) rates for early relapse (<18 months from diagnosis) are 40% to 50% and 75% to 80% for those with late relapses (>18 months from diagnosis).[13][16] No evidence exists that early detection of relapse by frequent surveillance (complete blood counts or bone marrow tests) in off-therapy patients improves outcome.[17]

Patient characteristics

Age 10 years and older at diagnosis has been reported as an independent predictor of poor outcome.[13] A Children’s Oncology Group (COG) study further showed that although patients aged 10 to 15 years at initial diagnosis do worse than patients aged 1 to 9 years (35% vs. 48%, 3-year postrelapse survival), those older than age 15 years did much worse (3-year OS, 15%; P = .001).[18]

The Berlin-Frankfurt-Münster (BFM) group has also reported that high peripheral blast counts (>10,000/μL) at the time of relapse were associated with inferior outcomes in patients with late marrow relapses.[10]

Children with Down syndrome with relapse of ALL had inferior outcomes as reported in a BFM report before 2000, primarily due to increased induction deaths and treatment-related mortality. However, since 2000, with improvements in supportive care, there have been no differences in outcome between patients with and without Down syndrome.[19]

Risk group classification at initial diagnosis

The COG reported that risk group classification at the time of initial diagnosis was prognostically significant after relapse; patients who met National Cancer Institute (NCI) standard-risk criteria at initial diagnosis fared better after relapse than did NCI high-risk patients.[13]

Response to reinduction therapy

Patients with marrow relapses who have persistent morphologic disease at the end of the first month of reinduction therapy have an extremely poor prognosis, even if they subsequently achieve a second complete remission (CR2).[20][Level of evidence: 2Di]; [21][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Several studies have demonstrated that minimal residual disease (MRD) levels after the achievement of CR2 are of prognostic significance in relapsed ALL.[20][22][23][24]; [25][Level of evidence: 3iiiDi] High levels of MRD at the end of reinduction and at later time points have been correlated with an extremely high risk of subsequent relapse.

Cytogenetics/genomic alterations

TP53 alterations (mutations and/or copy number alterations) are observed in approximately 11% of patients with ALL at first relapse and have been associated with an increased likelihood of persistent leukemia after initial reinduction (38.5% TP53 alteration vs. 12.5% TP53 wild-type) and poor event-free survival (EFS) (9% TP53 alteration vs. 49% TP53 wild-type). Approximately one-half of the TP53 alterations were present at initial diagnosis and half were newly observed at time of relapse.[26] A second genomic alteration found to predict for poor prognosis in patients with B-precursor ALL in first bone marrow relapse is IKZF1 deletion.[27] The frequency of IKZF1 deletion in B-precursor ALL patients at first relapse patients was 33% in patients in the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Relapse (ALL-REZ) BFM 2002 study, which was approximately twice as high as the frequency described in children at initial diagnosis of ALL.[27]

Patients with ETV6-RUNX1-positive ALL appear to have a relatively favorable prognosis at first relapse, consistent with the high percentage of such patients who relapse more than 36 months after diagnosis.[27][28] In the ALL-REZ BFM 2002 study, an EFS of 84% (± 7%, SE) was observed for patients with ETV6-RUNX1 ALL with bone marrow relapse.[27] In this study, 94% of patients with ETV6-RUNX1 had a duration of first remission that extended at least 6 months beyond completion of their primary treatment, and on multivariate analysis, time to relapse (and not the presence of ETV6-RUNX1) was an independent predictor of outcome. Similarly, the 5-year OS for ETV6-RUNX1 patients enrolled on the French Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (FRALLE) 93 study who relapsed at any site more than 36 months after diagnosis was 81%, and the presence of ETV6-RUNX1 was associated with a favorable survival outcome compared with other late relapsing patients.[28] However, the 3-year OS of ETV6-RUNX1 patients who experienced an early relapse (<36 months) was only 31%.

Immunophenotype

Immunophenotype is an important prognostic factor at relapse. Patients with T-cell ALL who experience a marrow relapse (isolated or combined) at any time during treatment or posttreatment are less likely to achieve a second remission and long-term EFS than are patients with B-cell ALL.[5][20]

Standard Treatment Options for First Bone Marrow Relapse of Childhood ALL

Standard treatment options for first bone marrow relapse include the following:

  1. Reinduction chemotherapy.
  2. Postreinduction therapy for patients achieving a CR2.

Reinduction chemotherapy

Initial treatment of relapse consists of reinduction therapy to achieve a CR2. Using either a four-drug reinduction regimen (similar to that administered to newly diagnosed high-risk patients) or an alternative regimen including high-dose methotrexate and high-dose cytarabine, approximately 85% of patients with a marrow relapse achieve a CR2 at the end of the first month of treatment.[5]; [29][Level of evidence: 2A]; [20][Level of evidence: 2Di] Patients with early marrow relapses have a lower rate of achieving a morphologic CR2 (approximately 70%) than do those with late marrow relapses (approximately 95%).[20][29]

Evidence (chemotherapy):

  1. A COG study used three blocks of intensive reinduction therapy with an initial four-drug combination including doxorubicin followed by two intensive consolidation blocks before either hematopoietic stem cell transplantation or chemotherapy continuation.[20]
    • Second remission was achieved after block 1 in 68% of patients with early relapse (<36 months from initial diagnosis) and in 96% of those with later relapse.
    • Blocks 2 and 3 reduced MRD in 40 of 56 patients who were MRD-positive after block 1.
  2. A United Kingdom–based randomized trial of ALL patients in first relapse compared reinduction with a four-drug combination using idarubicin versus mitoxantrone. [30][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • There was no difference in CR2 rates or end-reinduction MRD levels between the two study arms.
    • A significant improvement in OS in the mitoxantrone arm (69% vs. 45%, P = .007) due to decreased relapse after transplantation was reported.

    The potential benefit of mitoxantrone in relapsed ALL regimens requires further investigation.

  3. Investigators from the ALL-REZ BFM group used a six-drug reinduction approach, including high-dose methotrexate. A randomized comparison of 1 g/m2 of methotrexate versus 5 g/m2 of methotrexate with reinduction showed no advantage at the higher dose.[31]
  4. The combination of clofarabine, cyclophosphamide, and etoposide was reported to induce remission in 42% to 56% of patients with refractory or multiply relapsed disease.[32][33]; [34][Level of evidence: 2A]
  5. The combination of bortezomib plus vincristine, dexamethasone, peg-asparaginase, and doxorubicin was reported to induce complete response (with or without platelet recovery) in 80% of multiply relapsed patients with B-precursor ALL.[35][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiv] Notably, this trial did not include patients who were refractory to reinduction.

T-cell ALL

Patients with relapsed T-cell ALL have much lower rates of achieving CR2 with standard reinduction regimens than do patients with B-precursor phenotype.[20] Treatment of children with first relapse of T-cell ALL in the bone marrow with single-agent therapy using the T-cell selective agent, nelarabine, has resulted in response rates of approximately 50%.[36] The combination of nelarabine, cyclophosphamide, and etoposide has produced remissions in patients with relapsed/refractory T-cell ALL.[37]

Postreinduction therapy for patients achieving a second complete remission

Early-relapsing B-precursor ALL

For B-precursor patients with an early marrow relapse, allogeneic transplant from a human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-identical sibling or matched unrelated donor that is performed in second remission has been reported in most studies to result in higher leukemia-free survival than a chemotherapy approach.[7][25][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46] However, even with transplantation, the survival rate for patients with early marrow relapse is less than 50%. (Refer to the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation for First and Subsequent Bone Marrow Relapse section of this summary for more information.)

Late-relapsing B-precursor ALL

For patients with a late marrow relapse of B-precursor ALL, a primary chemotherapy approach after achievement of CR2 has resulted in survival rates of approximately 50%, and it is not clear whether allogeneic transplantation is associated with superior cure rate.[5][9][30][47][48][49]; [50][Level of evidence: 3iiA] End-reinduction MRD levels may help to identify patients with a high risk of subsequent relapse if treated with chemotherapy alone (no HSCT) in CR2. Whether transplantation benefits patients with late marrow relapse but a high level of MRD after reinduction requires further study.

Evidence (MRD-based risk stratification for late-relapse of B-precursor ALL):

  1. In a St. Jude Children's Research Hospital study, which included 23 patients with late relapses treated with chemotherapy in CR2, the 2-year cumulative incidence of relapse was 49% for the 12 patients who were MRD-positive at the end of reinduction and 0% for the 11 patients who were MRD-negative.[22]
  2. In BFM studies, patients are considered to be intermediate risk if they have a late isolated marrow relapse or an early or late combined marrow/extramedullary relapse. In a study from this group of 61 children with intermediate-risk relapsed B-cell ALL treated with chemotherapy alone in CR2 (no hematopoietic stem cell transplantation [HSCT]), end-reinduction MRD (assessed by a polymerase chain reaction–based assay) significantly predicted outcome.[24]
    • Patients with low MRD (<10-3) had a 10-year EFS of 73%, while those with high MRD (>10-3) had a 10-year EFS of 10%. On multivariate analysis, end-reinduction MRD was the strongest independent prognostic factor.

T-cell ALL

For patients with T-cell ALL who achieved remission after bone marrow relapse, outcomes with postreinduction chemotherapy alone have generally been poor,[5] and these patients are usually treated with allogeneic HSCT in CR2, regardless of time to relapse.

Standard Treatment for Second and Subsequent Bone Marrow Relapse

Although there are no studies directly comparing chemotherapy with HSCT for patients in third or subsequent CR, because cure with chemotherapy alone is rare, transplant is generally considered a reasonable approach for those achieving remission. Long-term survival for all patients after a second relapse is particularly poor, in the range of less than 10% to 20%.[44] One of the main reasons for this is failure to obtain a third remission. In spite of numerous attempts at novel combination approaches, only about 40% of children with second relapse are able to achieve remission.[51] If these patients achieve CR, HSCT has been shown to cure 20% to 35%, with failures occurring due to high rates of relapse and transplant-related mortality.[52][53][54][55][56][Level of evidence: 3iiA]

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation for First and Subsequent Bone Marrow Relapse

Components of the transplantation process

An updated expert panel review of indications for HSCT has been published.[57] Components of the transplant process that have been shown to be important in improving or predicting outcome of HSCT for children with ALL include the following:

  1. Total-body irradiation (TBI)-containing transplant preparative regimens.
  2. MRD detection just before transplant.
  3. Donor type and HLA match.
  4. Immune modulation after transplant to prevent relapse.

TBI-containing transplant preparative regimens

For patients proceeding to allogeneic HSCT, TBI appears to be an important component of the conditioning regimen. Two retrospective studies and a randomized trial suggest that transplant conditioning regimens that include TBI produce higher cure rates than do chemotherapy-only preparative regimens.[38][58][59] Fractionated TBI (total dose, 12–14 Gy) is often combined with cyclophosphamide, etoposide, thiotepa, or a combination of these agents. Study findings with these combinations have generally resulted in similar rates of survival,[60][61][62] although one study suggested that if cyclophosphamide is used without other chemotherapy drugs, a dose of TBI in the higher range may be necessary.[63] Many standard regimens include cyclophosphamide with TBI dosing between 1.32 and 1.4 Gy. On the other hand, when cyclophosphamide and etoposide were used with TBI, doses above 1.2 Gy resulted in worse survival due to excessive toxicity.[61]

MRD detection just before transplant

Disease status at the time of transplantation has long been known to be an important predictor of outcome, with patients not in CR at HSCT having very poor survival rates.[64] Several studies have also demonstrated that the level of MRD at the time of transplant is a key risk factor in children with ALL in CR undergoing allogeneic HSCT.[23][65][66][67][68][69][Level of evidence: 3iiA] Survival rates of patients who are MRD-positive pretransplant have been reported between 20% and 47%, compared with 60% to 88% in patients who are MRD-negative.

When patients have received two to three cycles of chemotherapy in an attempt to achieve an MRD-negative remission, the benefit of further intensive therapy for achieving MRD negativity must be weighed against the potential for significant toxicity. In addition, there is not clear evidence showing that MRD positivity in a patient who has received multiple cycles of therapy is a biological disease marker for poor outcome that cannot be modified, or whether further intervention bringing such patients into an MRD negative remission will overcome this risk factor and improve survival. Several study groups are attempting to answer this question.

Donor type and HLA match

Survival rates after matched unrelated donor and umbilical cord blood transplantations have improved significantly over the past decade and offer an outcome similar to that obtained with matched sibling donor transplants.[42][70][71][72][73]; [74][Level of evidence: 2A]; [75][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]; [76][Level of evidence: 3iiiDii] Rates of clinically extensive graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and treatment-related mortality remain higher after unrelated donor transplantation compared with matched sibling donor transplants.[43][52][70] However, there is some evidence that matched unrelated donor transplantation may yield a lower relapse rate, and National Marrow Donor Program and Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) analyses have demonstrated that rates of GVHD, treatment-related mortality, and OS have improved over time.[77]; [78][79][Level of evidence: 3iiA]

Another CIBMTR study suggests that outcome after one or two antigen mismatched cord blood transplants may be equivalent to that for a matched family donor or a matched unrelated donor.[80] In certain cases in which no suitable donor is found or an immediate transplant is considered crucial, a haploidentical transplant utilizing large doses of stem cells may be considered.[81] For T cell-depleted CD34-selected haploidentical transplants in which a parent is the donor, patients receiving maternal stem cells may have a better outcome than those who receive paternal stem cells.[82][Level of evidence: 3iiA]

Immune modulation after transplant to prevent relapse

A number of approaches to prevent relapse after transplantation have been studied, including withdrawal of immune suppression or donor lymphocyte infusion and targeted immunotherapies, such as monoclonal antibodies and natural killer cell therapy.[83][84] Trials in Europe and the United States have shown that patients defined as having a high risk of relapse based upon increasing recipient chimerism (i.e., increased percentage of recipient DNA markers) can successfully undergo withdrawal of immune suppression without excessive toxicity.[85] One study showed that in 46 patients with increasing recipient chimerism, the 31 patients who underwent immune suppression withdrawal, donor lymphocyte infusion, or both therapies had a 3-year EFS of 37% versus 0% in the nonintervention group (P < .001).[86]

Intrathecal medication after HSCT to prevent relapse

The use of post-HSCT intrathecal chemotherapy chemoprophylaxis is controversial.[87][88][89][90]

Relapse after allogeneic HSCT for relapsed ALL

For patients relapsing after an allogeneic HSCT for ALL, a second ablative allogeneic HSCT may be feasible. However, many patients will be unable to undergo a second HSCT procedure because of failure to achieve remission, early toxic death, or severe organ toxicity related to salvage chemotherapy.[91] Among the highly selected group of patients able to undergo a second ablative allogeneic HSCT, approximately 10% to 30% may achieve long-term EFS.[91][92][93]; [56][94][Level of evidence: 3iiA] Prognosis is more favorable in patients with longer duration of remission after the first HSCT and in patients with CR at the time of the second HSCT.[92][93][95] In addition, one study showed an improvement in survival after second HSCT if acute GVHD occurred, especially if it had not occurred after the first transplant.[96]

Reduced-intensity approaches can also cure a percentage of patients when used as a second allogeneic transplant approach, but only if patients achieve a CR confirmed by flow cytometry.[97][Level of evidence: 2A] Donor leukocyte infusion has limited benefit for patients with ALL who relapse after allogeneic HSCT.[98]; [99][Level of evidence: 3iiiA]

Whether a second allogeneic transplant is necessary to treat isolated CNS and testicular relapse is unknown, and a small series has shown survival in selected patients using chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy followed by a second transplant.[100][Level of evidence: 3iA]

Treatment of Isolated Extramedullary Relapse

With improved success in treating children with ALL, the incidence of isolated extramedullary relapse has decreased. The incidence of isolated CNS relapse is less than 5%, and testicular relapse is less than 1% to 2%.[101][102][103] As with bone marrow and mixed relapses, time from initial diagnosis to relapse is a key prognostic factor in isolated extramedullary relapses.[104] In addition, age older than 6 years at diagnosis was noted to be an adverse prognostic factor for patients with an isolated extramedullary relapse in one study.[105] Of note, in the majority of children with isolated extramedullary relapses, submicroscopic marrow disease can be demonstrated using sensitive molecular techniques,[106] and successful treatment strategies must effectively control both local and systemic disease. Patients with an isolated CNS relapse who show greater than 0.01% MRD in a morphologically normal marrow have a worse prognosis (5-year EFS, 30%) than do patients with either no MRD or MRD less than 0.01% (5-year EFS, 60%).[106]

CNS relapse

Standard treatment options for childhood ALL that has recurred in the CNS include the following:

  1. Systemic and intrathecal chemotherapy.
  2. Cranial or craniospinal radiation.

While the prognosis for children with isolated CNS relapse had been quite poor in the past, aggressive systemic and intrathecal therapy followed by cranial or craniospinal radiation has improved the outlook, particularly for patients who did not receive cranial radiation during their first remission.[16][104][107][108]

Evidence (chemotherapy and radiation therapy):

  1. In a Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) study using this strategy, children who had not previously received radiation therapy and whose initial remission was 18 months or longer had a 4-year EFS rate of approximately 80%, compared with EFS rates of approximately 45% for children with CNS relapse within 18 months of diagnosis.[104]
  2. In a follow-up POG study, children who had not previously received radiation therapy and who had initial remission of 18 months or more were treated with intensive systemic and intrathecal chemotherapy for 1 year followed by 18 Gy of cranial radiation only.[16] The 4-year EFS was 78%. Children with an initial remission of less than 18 months also received the same chemotherapy but had craniospinal radiation (24 Gy cranial/15 Gy spinal) as in the first POG study and achieved a 4-year EFS of 52%.

A number of case series describing HSCT in the treatment of isolated CNS relapse have been published.[109][110] The use of transplantation to treat isolated CNS relapse occurring less than 18 months from diagnosis, especially T-cell CNS relapse, requires further study.

Evidence (HSCT):

  1. In a study comparing outcome of patients treated with either HLA-matched sibling transplants or chemoradiation therapy as in the POG studies above, 8-year probabilities of leukemia-free survival adjusted for age and duration of first remission were similar (58% and 66%, respectively).[111][Level of evidence: 3iiiDii] This retrospective, registry-based study included transplantation of both early (<18 months from diagnosis) and late relapses.
    • Because of the relatively good outcome of patients with isolated CNS relapse more than 18 months from diagnosis treated with chemoradiation therapy alone (>75%), transplantation is generally not recommended for this group.

Testicular relapse

The results of treatment of isolated testicular relapse depend on the timing of the relapse. The 3-year EFS of boys with overt testicular relapse during therapy is approximately 40%; it is approximately 85% for boys with late testicular relapse.[112]

Standard treatment options in North America for childhood ALL that has recurred in the testes include the following:

  1. Chemotherapy.
  2. Radiation therapy.

The standard approach for treating isolated testicular relapse in North America is to administer intensive chemotherapy that includes high-dose methotrexate.[113] Patients who do not respond with a CR after induction also receive local radiation therapy.

In some European clinical trial groups, orchiectomy of the involved testicle is performed instead of radiation. Biopsy of the other testicle is performed at the time of relapse to determine if additional local control (surgical removal or radiation) is to be performed. A study that looked at testicular biopsy at the end of frontline therapy failed to demonstrate a survival benefit for patients with early detection of occult disease.[114] While there are limited clinical data concerning outcome without the use of radiation therapy or orchiectomy, the use of chemotherapy (e.g., high-dose methotrexate) that may be able to achieve antileukemic levels in the testes is being tested in clinical trials.

Evidence (treatment of testicular relapse [case reports]):

  1. Dutch investigators treated five boys with a late testicular relapse with high-dose methotrexate during induction (12 g/m2) and at regular intervals during the remainder of therapy (6 g/m2) without testicular radiation. All five boys were long-term survivors.[113]
  2. In a small series of boys who had an isolated testicular relapse after a HSCT for a prior systemic relapse of ALL, five of seven boys had extended EFS without a second HSCT.[100][Level of evidence: 3iA]

Treatment Options Under Clinical Evaluation for Relapsed Childhood ALL

Treatment options under clinical evaluation include the following:

COG trials for ALL in first relapse

The COG has divided patients with first relapse into three risk categories as outlined in Table 4. Clinical trials in some risk categories are available.

Table 4. Children's Oncology Group ALL Relapse Risk Stratification for B-Precursor ALLa

Isolated CNS or Testicular Relapse

Bone Marrow or Combined Relapse

<18 months from diagnosis

Intermediate risk

High risk

18–36 months from diagnosis

Low risk

High risk

>36 months from diagnosis

Low risk

Intermediate risk

ALL = acute lymphoblastic leukemia; CNS = central nervous system.

aAll relapsed T-cell ALL is considered high risk.

  1. COG-AALL07P1 (Bortezomib and Combination Chemotherapy in Treating Young Patients With Relapsed ALL or Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): Patients with marrow relapse of T-cell ALL and early marrow relapse (<36 months) of B-precursor ALL are eligible for this study. This is a phase II pilot study to determine the feasibility and safety of adding bortezomib to intensive reinduction chemotherapy. Bortezomib is a proteasome inhibitor that has been shown to sensitize leukemic cells to apoptosis induced by chemotherapy.

Other trials for ALL in first relapse

  1. TACL 2008-002 (NCT00981799) (Trial of Nelarabine, Etoposide, and Cyclophosphamide in Relapsed T-cell ALL and T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma): This trial, conducted by the Therapeutic Advances in Childhood Leukemia & Lymphoma clinical trials group, is testing the feasibility of administering nelarabine in combination with cyclophosphamide and etoposide as reinduction for patients with T-cell ALL in first relapse (as well as those who failed primary induction therapy). Doses of nelarabine and cyclophosphamide will be escalated in successive cohorts of patients to determine the maximum tolerated doses of these drugs when given in combination.
  2. DFCI-11-237 (NCT01523977) (Everolimus With Multiagent Reinduction Chemotherapy in Pediatric Patients With ALL): Patients in first relapse are eligible to enroll on a Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium trial testing the feasibility of administering everolimus, an oral mTOR inhibitor, in combination with multiagent reinduction (vincristine, prednisone, doxorubicin, intravenous PEG-L-asparaginase, and intrathecal chemotherapy).

Trials for ALL in second or subsequent relapse

  1. NCT01471782 (Clinical Study With Blinatumomab in Pediatric and Adolescent Patients With Relapsed/Refractory B-Precursor ALL): This is a phase I and II trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of blinatumomab, the CD3-CD19–binding molecule, in recruiting autologous T-cells to treat relapsed B-cell ALL.
  2. COG-ADVL1114 (NCT01403415) (Temsirolimus, Dexamethasone, Mitoxantrone Hydrochloride, Vincristine Sulfate, and Pegaspargase in Treating Young Patients With Relapsed ALL or Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma [NHL]): This is a phase I trial to determine the feasibility and safety of adding three doses of temsirolimus (intravenously) to the United Kingdom ALL R3 induction regimen for patients with relapsed ALL and NHL.

Multiple clinical trials investigating new agents and new combinations of agents are available for children with second or subsequent relapsed or refractory ALL and should be considered. These trials are testing targeted treatments specific for ALL, including monoclonal antibody–based therapies and drugs that inhibit signal transduction pathways required for leukemia cell growth and survival.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.

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