Abstract

The prevention of meningeal leukemia has long been a keystone in its cure. The need was recognized when it became apparent in the 1950s and 1960s that meningeal relapse heralded hematologic relapse and a fatal course and that its incidence increased as systemic chemotherapy became more effective in controlling hematologic and visceral leukemia. Evasion of a biologic safety net, the blood-CSF barrier, is required to prevent meningeal leukemia. Three methods are used: meningeal radiotherapy, intrathecal administration of antileukemia drugs, and high-dosage intravenous antileukemia drugs. Recent and current clinical studies reflect a continuing dialogue about which methods are preferable and under what circumstances. For prevention of meningeal leukemia, extended intrathecal therapy and intensive systemic chemotherapy appear to be as effective as radiotherapy for most patients. For treatment of overt meningeal leukemia, meningeal radiotherapy may be necessary. However, its administration compromises subsequent systemic chemotherapy so that delay may be advisable to allow intensive systemic chemotherapy for control of concurrent hematologic and visceral leukemia, whether clinically evident or not. For patients with meningeal leukemia at diagnosis, cranial irradiation may be delayed or possibly omitted if evidence of disease is minimal and intrathecal and systemic chemotherapy are intensive. For those who develop meningeal leukemia while on therapy or after its completion, cranial or craniospinal irradiation is probably required as well as intensive intrathecal and systemic chemotherapy. Hopefully, current and future studies will dispel the uncertainties and better quantitate risks and benefits of alternative methods. Whatever method is used, careful attention to technical details is required to assure optimal efficacy at the least possible expense in immediate toxicity and late sequelae.

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