Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer. While over 97% of children with ALL enter remission after an initial 28-day induction period, ~20% relapse within 5 years. Furthermore, Hispanics and African Americans are more likely to suffer relapse - a difference not entirely explained by clinical or genetic factors. Salvage is poor, and second-line therapies are toxic and expensive. Durable first remissions require a 2-year maintenance phase that includes daily oral self/parent-administration of 6- mercaptopurine (6MP). Increased risk of relapse is observed in patients with low systemic exposure to 6MP (low red cell levels of 6MP metabolite - thioguanine nucleotide [TGN]). However, the inter-individual variability observed in red cell TGN levels could be due to failure to adhere to prescribed therapy. In a recently completed Children's Oncology Group study (AALL03N1, R01 CA96670, PI: Bhatia), we demonstrated that the risk of relapse was significantly higher among children with adherence rates <95%, allowing us to create a definition of non-adherence (adherence <95%). Fifty-two percent of the relapses were attributable to non-adherence. Sixty-six percent of African Americans, 46% of Hispanics, 48% of Asians, and 32% of non-Hispanic whites were non-adherent (p<0.001). The worse outcome by ethnicity was mitigated after adjusting for adherence. The most common reason for missing 6MP was forgetfulness (on part of both parents of younger children as well as adolescent patients). Furthermore, adherent adolescent patients and their parents emphasized the importance of parental vigilance as a strategy to overcome forgetfulness. These findings have formed the basis for developing a comprehensive intervention package that consists of multimedia interactive patient/parent education, and web-based medication scheduling that translates into customized printed schedules and text- message reminders to prompt directly supervised therapy (DST) by a designated parent. Using a randomized clinical trial design, we will study the impact of this comprehensive intervention package (IP) vs. education alone (Edu) on adherence to oral 6MP in children with ALL who are d18 years at participation. We will examine the modifying effect of sociodemographic/ psychosocial factors and the mediating effects of change in health beliefs/knowledge on change in adherence with intervention, and establish the infrastructure to determine the impact of intervention on relapse of ALL. The proposed intervention addresses a clinically relevant problem - i.e., high prevalence of non-adherence that is associated with an increased risk of relapse in children with ALL, and is informed by the barriers/facilitators to adherence identified in our previous studies. The intervention is comprehensive, technologically sophisticated, yet simple, (hence disseminable) and cost-effective (savings of ~$12.6M to $32.8M/y). Successful implementation of the adherence-enhancing intervention will not only improve survival in children with ALL, but could also have far-reaching benefits, since contemporary therapies are increasingly incorporating oral agents in many other diseases, and non-adherence is a significant problem.

Public Health Relevance

Non-adherence to oral 6-Mercaptopurine is a common problem among children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and is a major cause of relapse. Using a randomized clinical trial design, this proposal aims to assess the efficacy of a technologically sophisticated, yet simple, inexpensive, and therefore disseminable and sustainable comprehensive intervention package to enhance adherence among children with ALL. Successful implementation of this adherence-enhancing intervention will not only improve survival in children with ALL, but could also have far-reaching benefits, since contemporary therapies are increasingly incorporating oral agents and non-adherence is a significant problem.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Behavioral Medicine, Interventions and Outcomes Study Section (BMIO)
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O'Mara, Ann M
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City of Hope/Beckman Research Institute
United States
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McQuaid, Elizabeth L; Landier, Wendy (2018) Cultural Issues in Medication Adherence: Disparities and Directions. J Gen Intern Med 33:200-206
Gupta, Sumit; Bhatia, Smita (2017) Optimizing medication adherence in children with cancer. Curr Opin Pediatr 29:41-45