CNS late-effects after ALL therapy in childhood. Part III: Neuropsychological performance in long-term survivors of childhood ALL: Impairments of concentration, attention, and memory*


  • *

    The institutions and investigators participating in the CNS Late Effects Study Group are listed in the Appendix.

  • Sections of this paper were presented at Klinische Onkologie 97, 1997, Düsseldorf, Germany, at the 4th International Conference on Long-Term-Complications of Treatment of Children and Adolescents for Cancer, 1996, Buffalo, New York, and at the 91st Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Kinderheilkunde, 1995, Krefeld, Germany.

  • This work is carried out by the German Late Effects Study Group.



To date, the event free survival (EFS) after treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) attains 80%. The survivor group is growing steadily. Therefore, the primary purpose of our study is to define the neuropsychological function and to describe which central nervous system (CNS) functions are impaired following the German ALL-BFM and COALL protocols for CNS-negative patients.

Patients and Methods

In a cross-sectional multicenter study 121 subjects, long-term survivors of childhood ALL in first continuous complete remission were investigated. Seven years ago, the subjects were treated as standard or medium risk patients according to ALL-BFM 81, ALL-BFM 83, or COALL 82 protocols, receiving comparable treatments. According to different CNS-prophylaxes, two subgroups were compared in the study: the non-cranially irradiated MTX-group (methotrexate-group) (n = 38) and the cranially irradiated RT-group (radiotherapy-group) (with MTX (n = 83). Intellectual and cognitive abilities of these groups were evaluated using standardized psychometric techniques. The Kaufman factors Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Organisation and Freedom from Distractibility were calculated. Demographical and clinical data collected at the time of the diagnosis were compared between both groups. The different prognoses for patients within both groups were taken into account using a defined risk factor. Analysis of variance was conducted to relate intellectual performance to age, gender, and CNS-treatment.


The RT-group exhibited a lower Full Scale IQ than the MTX-group (101.2 ± 15.9 vs. 109.9 ± 14.9, P = 0.031). Particularly for the Kaufman factor Freedom from Distractibility the RT-group showed the lower scores (96.9 ± 14.1 vs. 105.5 ± 12.6, P = 0.037). Significant interactions between gender and CNS prophylactic treatment were observed for Full Scale IQ (P = 0.008), Verbal IQ (P = 0.012), Performance IQ (P = 0.024), Verbal Comprehension (P = 0.004), and Perceptual Organisation (P = 0.032).


Cranial irradiation in combination with MTX therapy was associated with deficits in attention, concentration, and the ability of sequencing and processing, measured by the Kaufman factor Freedom from Distractibility. Our results support the strategy of avoiding prophylactic CNS irradiation in low risk patients. Med. Pediatr. Oncol. 2002;38:320–328. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.