The months immediately after the completion of treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are often regarded as a stressful time for children and families. In this prospective, longitudinal study, the prevalence and predictors of anxiety and depressive symptoms after the completion of treatment were examined.METHODS:
Participants included 160 children aged 2 to 9 years with standard-risk ALL who were enrolled on Children's Oncology Group protocol AALL0331. Parents completed standardized rating scales of their children's emotional-behavioral functioning and measures of coping and family functioning at approximately 1 month, 6 months, and 12 months after diagnosis and again 3 months after the completion of chemotherapy.RESULTS:
At 3 months off therapy, approximately 24% of survivors had at-risk/clinically elevated anxiety scores and 28% had elevated depression scores, which are significantly higher than the expected 15% in the general population (P = .028 and .001, respectively). Patients with elevated anxiety 1 month after diagnosis were at greater risk of off-therapy anxiety (odds ratio, 4.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.31-12.73 [P = .022]) and those with elevated depressive symptoms 6 months after diagnosis were at greater risk of off-therapy depression (odds ratio, 7.88; 95% confidence interval, 2.61-23.81 [P = .0002]). In adjusted longitudinal analyses, unhealthy family functioning (P = .008) and less reliance on social support coping (P = .009) were found to be associated with risk of emotional distress. Children from Spanish-speaking families (P = .05) also were found to be at a greater risk of distress.CONCLUSIONS:
A significant percentage of children experience emotional distress during and after therapy for ALL. These data provide a compelling rationale for targeted early screening and psychosocial interventions to support family functioning and coping skills.