In 1981 the BFM group introduced a new treatment strategy for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). A cytoreductive prephase (prednisone/cyclophosphamide) was followed by eight 5-day courses of chemotherapy. Fractionated cyclophosphamide, methotrexate (MTX) 0.5 g/m2 (24-hour infusion), and MTX intrathecally were administered at each course and cytosine arabinoside (ARA-C)/teniposide (VM-26) was given alternately with doxorubicin. In study ALL-BFM-83, central nervous system (CNS) chemotherapy was intensified by adding dexamethasone, while MTX/ARA-C was administered intraventricularly. Therapy duration was reduced to six courses. In study ALL-BFM-86, MTX 0.5 g/m2 was replaced by high-dose (HD) MTX, 5 g/m2 (24-hour infusion), and MTX/ARA-C/prednisolone intrathecal therapy was introduced. Doses of ARA-C and VM-26 were increased and fractionated, cyclophosphamide was partially replaced by ifosfamide, and vincristine was added. CNS irradiation was 24 Gy for prevention and 30 Gy for overt disease in studies ALL-BFM-81 and -83, but was omitted in ALL-BFM-86. In all, 87 patients were enrolled, 22 (8 CNS-positive) in study All-BFM-81, 24 (7 CNS-positive) in study ALL-BFM-83, and 41 (0 CNS-positive) in study ALL- BFM-86. The estimated 5-year duration of event-free survival (EFS) was 43% in study ALL-BFM 81, 50% in study ALL-BFM-83, and 78% in study ALL- BFM-86 (minimal follow-up, 25 months). Nineteen of 24 relapses occurred while on therapy or shortly thereafter. In study ALL-BFM 81, the CNS was the most frequent site of failure. In ALL-BFM-83, there were no isolated CNS relapses, but more bone marrow (BM) relapses occurred. In ALL-BFM-86, localized manifestations were the predominant site of failure, no isolated BM relapses occurred, and only one CNS relapse was diagnosed. No single parameter exerted a consistent influence on outcome with one exception. The presence of residual disease after the first two courses was correlated with an increased risk of therapy failure. We conclude that an intensive, short-pulse therapy delivered within a 4-month period is highly effective in the treatment of B-ALL. In addition to fractionated cyclophosphamide/ifosfamide, a 24-hour infusion of HD MTX 5 g/m2 in conjunction with an i.th. therapy is an important component for prevention of both systemic and CNS relapses. CNS irradiation is not needed for CNS-negative patients.
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