BACKGROUND: Relapses occur in about 20% of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Approximately one-third of these children can be cured. Their risk for late effects is high because of intensified treatment, but their health-related quality of life (HRQOL) was largely unmeasured. Our aim was to compare HRQOL of ALL survivors with the general population, and of relapsed with non-relapsed ALL survivors.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: As part of the Swiss Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (SCCSS) we sent a questionnaire to all ALL survivors in Switzerland who had been diagnosed between 1976-2003 at age <16 years, survived ≥5 years, and were currently aged ≥16 years. HRQOL was assessed with the Short Form-36 (SF-36), which measures four aspects of physical health and four aspects of mental health. A score of 50 corresponded to the mean of a healthy reference population. We analyzed data from 457 ALL survivors (response: 79%). Sixty-one survivors had suffered a relapse. Compared to the general population, ALL survivors reported similar or higher HRQOL scores on all scales. Survivors with a relapse scored lower in general health perceptions (51.6) compared to those without (55.8;p=0.005), but after adjusting for self-reported late effects, this difference disappeared.
CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: Compared to population norms, ALL survivors reported good HRQOL, even after a relapse. However, relapsed ALL survivors reported poorer general health than non-relapsed. Therefore, we encourage specialists to screen for poor general health in survivors after a relapse and, when appropriate, specifically seek and treat underlying late effects. This will help to improve patients' HRQOL.