Small bowel function before, during, and after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia was studied in 26 children. A significant impairment of D-xylose absorption was found during treatment. Permeability studies showed a significant decrease in mannitol and a significant increase in lactulose concentrations; five of 20 children tested had evidence of lactose malabsorption, three of whom were symptomatic. Intestinal function abnormalities were greater in children whose methotrexate treatments were separated by 7 day than by 16 day intervals. Only five (19%) children had no abnormal tests. Abnormalities of small bowel function may be treatment induced and this has implications for morbidity from gastrointestinal symptoms, impairment of the mucosal barrier, and malabsorption of both nutrients and drugs leading to malnutrition and suboptimal drug concentrations.
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