Neuropathic pain and neurocognitive functioning in children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Marita Partanen, Nicole M Alberts, Heather M Conklin, Kevin R Krull, Ching-Hon Pui, Doralina A Anghelescu, Lisa M Jacola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


ABSTRACT: Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) often experience treatment-related neurocognitive deficits and significant pain. Pain may exacerbate these cognitive impairments. This study examined neuropathic pain and neurocognitive outcomes in survivors of childhood ALL treated with contemporary therapy on a clinical trial (NCT00137111). There were 345 survivors (45% female, M = 6.9 years at diagnosis) who completed neurocognitive assessments including measures of sustained attention, learning and memory, and parent ratings of attention during at least one of 4 time points: on-therapy (Induction and Reinduction), end of therapy, and 2 years post-therapy. At-risk performance was defined as a score at least 1SD below the age-adjusted mean. Data on neuropathic pain (events, duration, and severity according NCI Common Toxicity Criteria) and pharmacologic pain management (opioids and gabapentin) were ascertained. Results showed that 135 survivors (39%) experienced neuropathic pain during treatment. Compared with those without pain, survivors with pain had greater memory impairments at end of therapy (California Verbal Learning Test [CVLT]-Total, 24% vs 12%, P = 0.046). Within the pain group, survivors who experienced a greater number of pain events (CVLT-Total = -0.88, P = 0.023) and those who were treated with opioids (versus gabapentin) had poorer learning and memory performance (CVLT-Total = -0.73, P = 0.011; Short Delay = -0.57, P = 0.024; Long Delay = -0.62, P = 0.012; and Learning Slope = -0.45, P = 0.042) across time points. These are considered medium-to-large effects (SD = 0.45-0.88). Neuropathic pain may be a risk factor for learning problems after therapy completion, and treatment for pain with opioids may also adversely affect neurocognitive performance. Therefore, patients who experience pain may require closer monitoring and additional intervention for neurocognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1070-1077
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Analgesics, Opioid/adverse effects
  • Child
  • Female
  • Gabapentin/therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuralgia
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma/complications


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