Dexamethasone-Induced Sarcopenia and Physical Frailty in Children With Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Protocol for a Prospective Cohort Study

Emma Jacobine Verwaaijen, Annelienke van Hulst, Marta Fiocco, Annelies Hartman, Martha Grootenhuis, Saskia Pluijm, Rob Pieters, Erica van den Akker, Marry M. van den Heuvel-Eibrink

Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan tijdschriftArtikelpeer review

4 Citaten (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: During treatment for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), children receive high doses of dexamethasone for its apoptotic effect on leukemia cells; however, muscle atrophy is a well-known serious side effect. Muscle atrophy (loss of muscle mass) accompanied by a decreased muscle strength may lead to a generalized impaired skeletal muscle state called sarcopenia. Loss of muscle mass is also an indicator of physical frailty, which is defined as a state of increased vulnerability that is characterized by co-occurrence of low muscle mass, muscle weakness, fatigue, slow walking speed, and low physical activity. Both sarcopenia and physical frailty are related to an increased risk of infections, hospitalizations, and decreased survival in children with chronic diseases.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to (1) estimate the occurrence of sarcopenia and physical frailty in children during ALL maintenance therapy, (2) evaluate the effect of administering dexamethasone, and (3) explore determinants associated with these outcomes.

METHODS: This prospective study is being pursued within the framework of the DexaDays-2 study: a randomized controlled trial on neurobehavioral side effects in pediatric patients with ALL. A total of 105 children (3-18 years) undergoing ALL maintenance treatment at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology are included in this study. Sarcopenia/frailty assessments are performed before and just after a 5-day dexamethasone course. A subset of 50 children participating in the DexaDays-2 trial because of severe dexamethasone-induced neurobehavioral problems were assessed at 3 additional timepoints. The sarcopenia/frailty assessment consists of bioimpedance analysis (skeletal muscle mass [SMM]), handheld dynamometry (handgrip strength), Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory Multidimensional Fatigue Scale (fatigue), Timed Up and Go Test (TUG; walking speed), and physical activity questionnaires. To evaluate potential change in sarcopenia/frailty components after a 5-day dexamethasone administration, a paired Student t test or Mann-Whitney U test will be used. Because of the presence of repeated measurements, generalized linear mixed models will be used to estimate the effect of dexamethasone on sarcopenia and frailty outcomes. Multivariable regression models will be estimated to investigate associations between the assessment scores and patient and treatment-related factors.

RESULTS: Patient accrual started in 2018 and was finalized in spring 2021. From autumn 2021 onward final data analyses will be performed.

CONCLUSIONS: This first study combining parameters of sarcopenia and physical frailty is of importance because these conditions can seriously complicate continuation of ALL therapy, independence in physical functioning, reaching motor milestones, and participating in daily life activities. The results will provide knowledge about these complications, the association between dexamethasone treatment and muscle loss and other components of frailty, and therefore insights into the severity of this side effect. By exploring potential determinants that may be associated with sarcopenia and physical frailty, we may be able to identify children at risk at an earlier stage and provide timely interventions.


Originele taal-2Engels
Pagina's (van-tot)e33517
TijdschriftJMIR Research Protocols
Nummer van het tijdschrift4
StatusGepubliceerd - 11 apr. 2022


  • acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • dexamethasone
  • fatigue
  • glucocorticoid-induced atrophy
  • muscle atrophy
  • physical activity
  • physical frailty
  • sarcopenia


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