Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is curable in over 80% of children and adolescents with high-risk features. However, current therapies are associated with symptomatic osteonecrosis that disproportionately affects adolescents, often requires surgery, and is one of the most common causes of short- and long-term morbidity. A strategy is needed to lessen this risk.
CCG-1961, a multi-cohort randomized cooperative group trial, evaluated components of therapeutic intensification in 2056 eligible, newly diagnosed high-risk patients (white blood cell count ≥50×109/L and/or age ≥10 years). To address osteonecrosis, a novel alternate-week dexamethasone schedule (10 mg/m2/day on days 0-6 and 14-20) was compared to standard continuous dexamethasone (10 mg/m2/day on days 0-20) in randomized regimens with either double or single delayed intensification phases, respectively. Randomization was done based on a randomization schedule generated using permuted blocks within strata. Patients were prospectively monitored clinically for osteonecrosis, with confirmatory imaging of suspected sites. Primary analyses were performed on an intent-to-treat basis and focused on the estimation and comparison of cumulative incidence rates of osteonecrosis both overall and in patient subgroups (age, gender, marrow early response status); final results are herein reported. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00002812.
Symptomatic osteonecrosis was diagnosed in 143 patients at 377 confirmed skeletal sites, resulting in 139 surgeries. The overall cumulative incidence of osteonecrosis was 7·7% (N=2056) at 5 years, correlating with age at ALL diagnosis (1-9 years 1·0% (N=769), 10-15 years 9·9% (N=1025), ≥16 years 20·0% (N=262), p<0·0001) and gender (≥10 years, female 15·7% (N=525) versus male 9·3% (N=762), p=0·0010). For patients ≥10 years old with a rapid response to induction therapy, the use of alternate-week dexamethasone during delayed intensification phases significantly reduced osteonecrosis incidence compared with continuous dexamethasone (8·7±2·1% (N=420) versus 17·0±2·9% (N=403), p=0·0005), especially those ≥16 years (11·3±5·3% (N=84) versus 37·5±11·1% (N=79), p=0·0003; females 17·2±8·1% (N=32) versus 43·9±14·1% (N=23), p=0·050; males 7·7±5·9% (N=53) versus 34·6±11·6% (N=56), p=0·0014).
Alternate-week dexamethasone during delayed intensification phases effectively reduces osteonecrosis risk in children and adolescents receiving intensified therapy for high-risk ALL.