Background: Children with high-risk neuroblastoma have a poor outcome. In this study, we assessed whether myeloablative therapy in conjunction with transplantation of autologous bone marrow improved event-free survival as compared with chemotherapy alone, and whether subsequent treatment with 13-cis-retinoic acid (isotretinoin) further improves event-free survival.
Methods: All patients were treated with the same initial regimen of chemotherapy, and those without disease progression were then randomly assigned to receive continued treatment with myeloablative chemotherapy, total-body irradiation, and transplantation of autologous bone marrow purged of neuroblastoma cells or to receive three cycles of intensive chemotherapy alone. All patients who completed cytotoxic therapy without disease progression were then randomly assigned to receive no further therapy or treatment with 13-cis-retinoic acid for six months.
Results: The mean (+/-SE) event-free survival rate three years after the first randomization was significantly better among the 189 patients who were assigned to undergo transplantation than among the 190 patients assigned to receive continuation chemotherapy (34+/-4 percent vs. 22+/-4 percent, P=0.034). The event-free survival rate three years after the second randomization was significantly better among the 130 patients who were assigned to receive 13-cis-retinoic acid than among the 128 patients assigned to receive no further therapy (46+/-6 percent vs. 29+/-5 percent, P=0.027).
Conclusions: Treatment with myeloablative therapy and autologous bone marrow transplantation improved event-free survival among children with high-risk neuroblastoma. In addition, treatment with 13-cis-retinoic acid was beneficial for patients without progressive disease when it was administered after chemotherapy or transplantation.