Author(s): Bleyer WA
With one exception, the risk and severity of neurotoxicity is directly proportional to the number of therapeutic modalities used. Three are worse than two, and two are worse than one. Combinations of therapeutic modalities which include CNS RT appear to be the most neurotoxic. The least neurotoxic combination of two modalities appears to be the IT MTX with high-dose intravenous MTX. Thus far, high-dose MTX appear to be the safest single modality, in terms of acute, subacute, and delayed neurotoxicity. The improved outcome in intellectual and academic performance in the NCI-191/CCG-134P conjoint trial of the CCSG and the Pediatric Branch described above (see section of Presymptomatic CNS Therapy) appears to confirm this observation. Whether triple IT chemotherapy will have the same result remains to be established. If CNS RT must be combined with MTX therapy, the least neurotoxic approach appears to be to administer these modalities in sequence, IT MTX, or high-dose intravenous MTX followed by CNS RT. MTX given during or after CNS RT appears from the clinical data to be more likely to produce severe neurologic sequelae. An ultimate goal would be to avoid both ionizing RT and IT chemotherapy. To this end, the NCI/CCSG study has demonstrated that this may be possible, except for those patients who are at the highest risk for CNS relapse despite conventional CNS prophylaxis. Meanwhile, for presymptomatic therapy, either cranial RT (18 Gy total dose at 120-180 cGy per day) in conjunction with IT MTX, or frequent IT chemotherapy with MTX, cytarabine, and hydrocortisone combined and administered throughout induction, consolidation, and maintenance is eminently justified in the majority of children with ALL. On a worldwide basis, chemoradiotherapy with cranial RT and IT MTX remains the established method of preventing overt CNS leukemia. The benefits of this intervention, in terms of prevention of symptomatic CNS leukemia, prolongation of complete remission, and increased cure rates, are clearly worth the risks.