Assessment of Executive Functions after Treatment of Childhood Acute Lymphoid Leukemia: a Systematic Review

Neuropsychol Rev. 2020 Sep;30(3):386-406. doi: 10.1007/s11065-020-09446-4. Epub 2020 Jul 27.


Individuals treated for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) have a high survival rate. This fact, however, may lead to neurocognitive impairments in survivors, as shown in some studies. The prefrontal cortex and executive functions seem to be particularly vulnerable due to the late maturation in the development process. Executive impairments have been associated with poorer quality of life in childhood cancer survivors. A systematic review was carried out with studies that assessed executive functions in childhood ALL survivors.\ Studies were collected from five electronic databases: MEDLINE (PubMed); PsycInfo; WebOfScience; LILACS and IBECS. Eighty-four studies were retrieved from the database search, of which 50 were read in full and 26 met the inclusion criteria. The studies were heterogeneous as to the instruments used to assess executive function, the skills assessed and the comparison methods. Despite some discrepancies, ALL survivors seem to exhibit poorer executive functioning than typical controls, but this result did not hold true when subjects were compared to normative mean. Changes in brain structure and dynamics resulting from the disease itself, the toxicity of the treatment and difficulties in coping with the stress during treatment may be related to executive impairments in ALL survivors. Discussion proposed standardized methods and measures for assessing executive functioning in children during and after ALL treatment.

Keywords: Cancer; Leukemia; Lymphoid; executive function; cortex; Prefrontal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / psychology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Survivors / psychology