Background: Osteonecrosis (ON) and decline of bone mineral density (BMD) are serious side effects during and after treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It is unknown whether ON and low BMD co-occur in the same patients, and whether these two osteogenic side effects can influence each other’s development during pediatric ALL treatment.

Methods: BMD and the incidence of symptomatic ON were prospectively assessed in 466 patients with ALL (4-18 years of age) treated according to the dexamethasone-based Dutch Child Oncology Group-ALL9 protocol. Symptomatic ON was defined as persistent pain in arms or legs not caused by vincristine administration, and confirmed by magnetic resonance imaging. Bone mineral density of the lumbar spine (BMDLS) (n=466) and of the total body (BMDTB) (n=106) were measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry at ALL diagnosis, after 32 weeks of treatment, at cessation of treatment (109 weeks) and 1 year after cessation of treatment. BMD was expressed as age-matched and gender-matched standard deviation scores (SDS; Z-score). Multivariate linear mixed models were adjusted for age at diagnosis.

Results: Thirty patients (6.4%) suffered from ON. At cessation of treatment, mean BMDLS was -1.28 SDS (SD: 1.27, n=332; p<0.01) and BMDTB was -0.74 SDS (SD: 1.29, n=65; p<0.01) lower in ALL patients compared to their healthy peers. At baseline, BMDLS and BMDTB did not differ between patients who developed or who did not develop ON (mean BMDLS ON+: -0.90 vs. ON-: -1.14, p=0.36; mean BMDTB ON+: 0.07 vs. ON-: 0.25 p=0.65). At cessation of treatment, patients with ON seem to have a trend for a lower mean BMDLS (ON+: -1.68 vs. ON-: -1.31, p=0.18) and they have a lower mean BMDTB (ON+: -1.91 vs. ON-: -0.59, p=0.01) than patients without ON. Multivariate analyses showed that BMDTB change during follow-up was significantly different for patients with ON than without ON (interaction group time, p=0.04). Between BMD measurements before and after the diagnosis, patients with ON seemed to have a more rapid decline of BMDTB than in patients of the same age without ON (mean BMDTB difference -1.13 vs. -0.62, p=0.10).

Conclusion: We conclude that symptomatic ON and low BMD during antileukemic treatment co-occur in pediatric ALL patients. BMD status at ALL diagnosis does not seem to precede ON. However, the development of ON seems to aggravate BMD decline during antileukemic treatment, most likely due to bone destruction and the advised physical immobilization.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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