Neurocognitive risk may begin before treatment for young leukemia patients
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IMAGE: This is first author Yin Ting Cheung, Ph.D., formerly of St. Jude, pictured with corresponding author Kevin Krull, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer… view more 

Credit: Seth Dixon/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Leukemia itself, not just side effects related to its treatment, may increase the risk for long-term problems with attention, organization and related neurocognitive skills in survivors of the most common childhood cancer, according to research from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The study appears today in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Researchers analyzed the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of 235 St. Jude pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients treated with chemotherapy alone. The group included 138 long-term survivors who participated in the study. Even before treatment began, some patients had proteins in their CSF that suggested injury to cells that make up the white matter in the brain. These are glial cells that help the brain function efficiently by insulating and supporting the neurons.

“This was a surprise. Until now, we had not suspected that leukemia, by itself, or the inflammatory response to the disease, may lead to changes that leave ALL survivors at risk for problems with executive functioning and processing

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