Among children with average-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), those with impairments in physical and emotional functioning at 2 months after diagnosis are likely to have continuing difficulties over 2 years later, based on the results of a 594-patient study published online in Cancer (2017 Nov 7.).
Evaluations of quality of life and family functioning as early as 2 months after diagnosis identified those at highest risk of continued impairment, and can be used to target patients and their families for interventions and risk factor modification, the researchers said.
“These results provide a compelling rationale to screen patients for physical and emotional functioning early in therapy to target interventions toward patients at the highest risk of later impairment,” wrote lead author Daniel J. Zheng, MD, of the section of pediatric hematology-oncology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., and coauthors.
Dr. Zheng and his colleagues measured impairments in children with average-risk ALL using the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory Generic Core Scales Version 4.0 (PedsQL4.0), a 23-item survey that measures a child’s quality of life, and the 12-question General Functioning subscale of the McMaster Family Assessment Device (FAD-GF). Both are quick and low-cost screening measures that can be conducted in the clinic, they added. Evaluations occurred at approximately 2 months, 8 months, 17 months, 26 months, and 38 months (boys only) after diagnosis. The mean age of participants at diagnosis was 6.0 years (standard deviation, 1.6 years).
At 2 months after diagnosis, 36.5% of the children had impairments in physical functioning, and 26.2% had impairments in emotional functioning. The population norms for these measures are 2.3% for both scales, investigators wrote. At a 26-month evaluation, levels of impairment were still 11.9% for physical and 9.8% for emotional functioning.
Boys had an additional 38-month evaluation, at which time there were no significant differences in quality of life outcomes versus those observed at 26 months in the girls.
Unhealthy family functioning was a significant predictor of emotional impairment (odds ratio, 1.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-2.1) in multivariate models controlling for age and sex.
Strategies are needed to “intervene early and help the substantial proportion of children” with quality of life impairments, the researchers said. In particular, family functioning is “potentially modifiable with early intervention,” as suggested by a series of promising studies of techniques such as stress management sessions for parents. Most techniques feature a “targeted family-centered approach to psychosocial needs” that includes “embedded psychologists” as part of the multidisciplinary cancer care team.
Study funding came from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Dr. Zheng reported funding from a Yale Medical Student research fellowship, while coauthors reported conflict of interest disclosures from entities including Amgen, Takeda Pharmaceuticals International, and Shire Pharmaceuticals.