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Childhood Acute Myeloid Leukemia/Other Myeloid Malignancies Treatment (PDQ®)

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Therapy-Related AML/Myelodysplastic Syndromes

The development of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) after treatment with ionizing radiation or chemotherapy, particularly alkylating agents and topoisomerase inhibitors, is termed therapy-related (t-AML or t-MDS, respectively). In addition to genotoxic exposures, genetic predisposition susceptibilities (such as polymorphisms in drug detoxification and DNA repair pathway components) may contribute to the occurrence of secondary AML/MDS.[1-4] The risk of t-AML/t-MDS is regimen-dependent and often related to the cumulative doses of chemotherapy agents received, and the dose and field of radiation administered.[5] Regimens previously used that employed high cumulative doses of either epipodophyllotoxins (e.g., etoposide or teniposide) or alkylating agents (e.g., mechlorethamine, melphalan, busulfan, and cyclophosphamide) induced excessively high rates of t-AML/t-MDS that exceeded 10% in some cases.[5,6] However, most current chemotherapy regimens that are used to treat childhood cancers have a cumulative incidence of t-AML/t-MDS not greater than 1% to 2%. t-AML/t-MDS resulting from epipodophyllotoxins and other topoisomerase II inhibitors (e.g., anthracyclines) usually occur within 2 years of exposure and are commonly associated with chromosome 11q23 abnormalities,[7] although other subtypes of AML (e.g., acute promyelocytic leukemia) have been reported.[8,9] t-AML that occurs after exposure to alkylating agents or ionizing radiation often presents 5 to 7 years later and is commonly associated with monosomies or deletions of chromosomes 5 and 7.[1,7]

The goal of treatment is to achieve an initial complete remission (CR) using AML-directed regimens and then, usually, proceed directly to hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) with the best available donor. However, treatment is challenging because of the following:[10]

  1. Increased rates of adverse cytogenetics and subsequent failure to obtain remission with chemotherapy.
  2. Comorbidities or limitations related to chemotherapy for the previous malignancy.

Accordingly, CR rates and overall survival (OS) rates are usually lower for patients with t-AML compared with patients with de novo AML.[10-12] Patients with t-MDS-refractory anemia usually have not needed induction chemotherapy before transplant; the role of induction therapy before transplant is controversial in patients with refractory anemia with excess blasts-1.

Only a few reports describe the outcome of children undergoing HSCT for t-AML. One study described outcomes of 27 children with t-AML who received related and unrelated donor HSCT. Three-year OS rates were 18.5% ± 7.5% and event-free survival rates were 18.7% ± 7.5%. Poor survival was mainly the result of very high transplant-related mortality (59.6% ± 8.4%).[13] Another study reported a second retrospective single-center experience of 14 patients transplanted for t-AML/t-MDS between 1975 and 2007. Survival was 29%, but in this review only 63% of patients diagnosed with t-AML/t-MDS underwent HSCT.[11] A multicenter study (CCG-2891) looked at outcomes of 24 children with t-AML/t-MDS compared with other children enrolled on the study with de novo AML (n = 898) or MDS (n = 62). Children with t-AML/t-MDS were older and low-risk cytogenetics rarely occurred. Although rates of achieving CR and OS at 3 years were worse in the t-AML/t-MDS group (CR, 50% vs. 72%; P = .016; OS, 26% vs. 47%; P = .007), survival was similar (OS, 45% vs. 53%; P = .87) if patients achieved a CR.[14] The importance of remission to survival in these patients is further illustrated by another single-center report of 21 children undergoing HSCT for t-AML/t-MDS between 1994 and 2009. Of the 21 children, 12 had t-AML (11 in CR at the time of transplant), seven had refractory anemia (for whom induction was not done), and two had refractory anemia with excess blasts. Survival of the entire cohort was 61%; those in remission or with refractory anemia had a disease-free survival of 66%, and for the three patients with more than 5% blasts at the time of HSCT, survival was 0% (P = .015).[15] Because t-AML is rare in children, it is not known whether the significant decrease in transplant-related mortality after unrelated donor HSCT noted over the past several years will translate to improved survival in this population. Patients should be carefully assessed for pre-HSCT morbidities caused by earlier therapies and approaches should be adapted to give adequate intensity while minimizing transplant-related mortality.


  1. Leone G, Fianchi L, Voso MT: Therapy-related myeloid neoplasms. Curr Opin Oncol 23 (6): 672-80, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Bolufer P, Collado M, Barragan E, et al.: Profile of polymorphisms of drug-metabolising enzymes and the risk of therapy-related leukaemia. Br J Haematol 136 (4): 590-6, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Ezoe S: Secondary leukemia associated with the anti-cancer agent, etoposide, a topoisomerase II inhibitor. Int J Environ Res Public Health 9 (7): 2444-53, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Ding Y, Sun CL, Li L, et al.: Genetic susceptibility to therapy-related leukemia after Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma: role of drug metabolism, apoptosis and DNA repair. Blood Cancer J 2 (3): e58, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Leone G, Mele L, Pulsoni A, et al.: The incidence of secondary leukemias. Haematologica 84 (10): 937-45, 1999. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Pui CH, Ribeiro RC, Hancock ML, et al.: Acute myeloid leukemia in children treated with epipodophyllotoxins for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. N Engl J Med 325 (24): 1682-7, 1991. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Andersen MK, Johansson B, Larsen SO, et al.: Chromosomal abnormalities in secondary MDS and AML. Relationship to drugs and radiation with specific emphasis on the balanced rearrangements. Haematologica 83 (6): 483-8, 1998. [PUBMED Abstract]
  8. Ogami A, Morimoto A, Hibi S, et al.: Secondary acute promyelocytic leukemia following chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in a child. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 26 (7): 427-30, 2004. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Okamoto T, Okada M, Wakae T, et al.: Secondary acute promyelocytic leukemia in a patient with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treated with VP-16 and MST-16. Int J Hematol 75 (1): 107-8, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  10. Larson RA: Etiology and management of therapy-related myeloid leukemia. Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program : 453-9, 2007. [PUBMED Abstract]
  11. Aguilera DG, Vaklavas C, Tsimberidou AM, et al.: Pediatric therapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome/acute myeloid leukemia: the MD Anderson Cancer Center experience. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 31 (11): 803-11, 2009. [PUBMED Abstract]
  12. Yokoyama H, Mori S, Kobayashi Y, et al.: Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for therapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome and acute leukemia: a single-center analysis of 47 patients. Int J Hematol 92 (2): 334-41, 2010. [PUBMED Abstract]
  13. Woodard P, Barfield R, Hale G, et al.: Outcome of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for pediatric patients with therapy-related acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndrome. Pediatr Blood Cancer 47 (7): 931-5, 2006. [PUBMED Abstract]
  14. Barnard DR, Lange B, Alonzo TA, et al.: Acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome in children treated for cancer: comparison with primary presentation. Blood 100 (2): 427-34, 2002. [PUBMED Abstract]
  15. Kobos R, Steinherz PG, Kernan NA, et al.: Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation for pediatric patients with treatment-related myelodysplastic syndrome or acute myelogenous leukemia. Biol Blood Marrow Transplant 18 (3): 473-80, 2012. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: April 9, 2015