Cognitive outcome, as measured by verbal and performance IQs, was compared in 35 girls and 47 boys who were in first remission for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. All children had received presymptomatic cranial radiotherapy and intrathecal methotrexate. The mean age at diagnosis was 4.2 years and the mean elapsed time from initial diagnosis to intellectual assessment was 7.1 years. Results showed that children irradiated before the age of 4 years were impaired in certain aspects of non-verbal ability, as well as in measures of short term memory and attention, calculated by factor scores derived from selected subtests of the IQ test. Subtests requiring verbal and non-verbal reasoning showed the greatest impairment after early diagnosis and treatment. In addition girls were selectively impaired in verbal IQ and other aspects of verbal ability, with the degree of impairment exacerbated by early treatment. No relationship was found between degree of impairment and either time since treatment or number of methotrexate injections. It is concluded that early age at irradiation increases the risk of impaired intellectual outcome, particularly in girls.
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