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Keywords:

  • childhood cancer;
  • follow-up;
  • off-therapy;
  • relapses

Abstract

Objective

To evaluate the role of active follow-up for the detection of relapses occurring after completion of therapy in children with cancer.

Methods

The clinical records of all children who had a cancer relapse more than 3 months after the end of therapies in the period 1985–2000 were reviewed. Relapses were defined “diagnosed at a scheduled visit” or “at an unscheduled visit” based upon how the visit that lead to the suspected diagnosis was scheduled. Information was collected on how the first suspicion of relapse was made. Survival after relapse was calculated, by type of visit and tumor type.

Results

Among 739 children who completed therapy for a malignant tumor in first complete remission (CR), 101 relapses [74 after solid tumors (ST), 27 after leukemia/lymphoma (L)] occurred after a median time of 12 months (range 3–87). Fifty-one (50.5%) first relapses were diagnosed during a visit scheduled because of symptoms (36 ST, 15 L), and 50 relapses (49.5%) at a regularly scheduled visit (38 ST, 12 L). Overall, 75% of relapses were first suspected on clinical basis, 16% via imaging, and only 9% via lab tests. Survival more than 10 years from first relapse was 25.7% (SE: 0.05%), with no significant differences between relapses diagnosed at a scheduled visit (20.5%), or at an unscheduled visit (32.1%; P = 0.826). Children with L had a better overall survival (OS, 70.6%) as compared to those with ST (9.2%, P < 0.001), probably because of a more extensive use of stem cell transplantation (SCT) as part of the salvage regimens.

Conclusions

Scheduled follow-up programs failed to detect relapses in 50% of cases presented here. Survival after relapse is not affected by whether relapse was detected at a scheduled or an unscheduled visit. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.