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In the last two decades great improvements have been made in the treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, with 5-year overall survival rates currently approaching almost 90%. In comparison, results reported in adolescents and young adults (AYAs) are relatively poor. In adults, results have improved, but are still lagging behind those obtained in children. Possible reasons for this different pattern of results include an increased incidence of unfavorable and a decreased incidence of favorable cytogenetic abnormalities in AYAs compared with children. Furthermore, in AYAs less intensive treatments (especially lower cumulative doses of drugs such as asparaginase, corticosteroids and methotrexate) and longer gaps between courses of chemotherapy are planned compared to those in children. However, although favorable results obtained in AYAs receiving pediatric protocols have been consistently reported in several international collaborative trials, physicians must also be aware of the specific toxicity pattern associated with increased success in AYAs, since an excess of toxicity may compromise overall treatment schedule intensity. Cooperative efforts between pediatric and adult hematologists in designing specific protocols for AYAs are warranted.
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