Parents’ and Adolescents’ Preferences for Intensified or Reduced Treatment in Randomized Lymphoblastic Leukemia Trials

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Abstract

Background.

When offered participation in clinical trials, families of children with cancer face a delicate balance between cure and toxicity. Since parents and children may perceive this balance differently, this paper explores whether adolescent patients have different enrollment patterns compared to younger children in trials with different toxicity profiles.

Procedure.

Age-dependent participation rates in three consecutive, randomized childhood leukemia trials conducted by the Nordic Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology were evaluated. The ALL2000 dexamethasone/vincristine (Dx/VCR) trial tested treatment intensifications to improve cure, and the back-to-back ALL2008 6-mercaptopurine (6MP) and ALL2008 PEG-asparaginase (ASP) trials tested treatment intensifications (6MP) and toxicity reduction without compromising survival (ASP). Patient randomization and toxicity data were prospectively registered by the treating physicians.

Results.

Parents of young children favored treatment intensifications (Dx/VCR: 12% refusal; 6MP: 14%; ASP: 21%), whereas parents of adolescents favored treatment reductions (Dx/VCR: 52% refusal; 6MP: 30%; ASP: 8%). Adolescents were more likely to refuse intensification trials than young children (adjusted ORs 6.3; P < 0.01 [Dx/VCR] and 2.1; P = 0.04 [6MP]). Adolescents were less likely to refuse the ASP trial, with varying effect size depending on the length of the preceding consolidation treatment (adjusted OR for median consolidation length 0.15; P = 0.01). Younger children participated more frequently in only 6MP than in only ASP (14% vs. 5%), and adolescents vice versa (2% vs. 17%; P = 0.001).

Conclusions.

Parents’ and adolescents’ divergent inclinations toward intensified or reduced therapy emphasize the necessity of actively involving adolescents in the informed consent process, which should also address motives for trial participation.

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