Decreased morbidity and mortality of autologous hematopoietic transplants for children with malignant central nervous system tumors: the ‘Head Start’ trials, 1991-2009

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Since 1991, three sequential prospective clinical trials have been conducted by the ‘Head Start’ (HS) Consortium in which young children with newly-diagnosed malignant central nervous system (CNS) tumors were treated with induction chemotherapy followed by single-cycle marrow-ablative chemotherapy and autologous hematopoietic rescue as a means of improving disease cure rate and quality of survival through avoidance (< 6 years old at diagnosis) or reduction (6-10 years old) of brain irradiation. Bone Marrow (HS I) or filgrastim-mobilized peripheral hematopoietic cells (HS II and III) were obtained following recovery from the first and/or second induction cycles. Radiotherapy was administered following all chemotherapy only for patients with residual tumor following completion of induction or with age greater than 6 years at diagnosis. Two hundred and twenty-six children were enrolled on three consecutive HS trials with primary malignant CNS tumors and underwent marrow-ablative chemotherapy. The 100-day treatment-related mortality (TRM) steadily declined as did grade IV transplant-related oropharyngeal mucositis. Factors most likely associated with the decrease in TRM and morbidity are increasing experience with the marrow-ablative chemotherapy regimen combined with improved leukapheresis and post-reinfusion supportive care techniques, contributing toward improved overall survival.

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