Purpose: We postulated that intensification of chemotherapy immediately after remission induction might reduce the leukemic cell burden sufficiently to allow an abbreviated period of antimetabolite therapy.
Patients and methods: Three hundred forty-seven children (ages 1 to 15 years) with previously untreated acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) were enrolled onto the Tokyo L92-13 study, which excluded patients with mature B-cell ALL and patients less than 1 year old. One hundred twenty-four patients were classified as standard risk, 122 as high risk, and 101 as extremely high risk, according to age, peripheral-blood leukocyte count, selected genetic abnormalities, and immunophenotype. All subjects received four drugs for remission induction, followed by a risk-directed multidrug intensification phase and therapy for presymptomatic leukemia in the CNS. Maintenance chemotherapy with oral mercaptopurine and methotrexate was administered for 6 months, with all treatment stopped by 1 year after diagnosis.
Results: The mean (+/- SD) event-free survival (EFS) and overall survival rates for all patients were 59.5% +/- 3.4% and 81.5% +/- 2.2%, respectively, at 5. 5 years after diagnosis. EFS rates by risk category were similar (60. 2% +/- 6.0% for standard risk, 57.7% +/- 5.6% for high risk, and 62. 5% +/- 5.7% for extremely high risk), whereas overall survival rates differed significantly (91.2% +/- 2.7%, 80.0% +/- 4.1%, and 72.1% +/- 4.5%, respectively, P <.0001 by the log-rank test). There were 107 relapses. Eighty-five (79.4%) of these 107 patients achieved second complete remissions, with subsequent EFS rates of 61.5% +/- 7. 9% (standard risk), 42.6% +/- 8.1% (high risk), and 9.6% +/- 6.4% (extremely high risk). Of the five risk factors analyzed, only the response to prednisolone monotherapy among extremely high-risk patients proved important.
Conclusion: Early treatment intensification did not compensate for a truncated phase of maintenance chemotherapy in children with standard- or high-risk ALL. However, 6 months of antimetabolite treatment seemed adequate for extremely high-risk patients who were good responders to prednisolone and received intensified chemotherapy that included high-dose cytarabine early in the clinical course.