Detection of central nervous system involvement in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia by cytomorphology and flow cytometry of the cerebrospinal fluid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Therapy directed at the central nervous system (CNS) is an essential part of the treatment for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The current evaluation of CNS involvement based on cytomorphological examination of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) alone is not as sensitive with low cell counts as flow cytometric immunophenotyping (FCI) of the CSF. However, the importance of low CSF blasts counts at diagnosis is uncertain. We sought to determine the significance of FCI in relation to conventional morphological examination. Procedure: We retrospectively compared FCI of the CSF with cytomorphology at diagnosis or relapse of childhood ALL. All patients were diagnosed 2000-2012 in Stockholm or Umeå, Sweden. Clinical data were collected from medical records and the Nordic leukemia registry. Treatment assignment was based on morphological examination only. Results: The cohort was comprised of 214 patients with ALL. CSF involvement was detected by both methods in 20 patients, in 17 by FCI alone, and in one patient by cytomorphology alone. The relapse rate was higher for patients with negative cytology but positive FCI compared to those without CNS involvement using both methods. The difference was especially marked in the current protocol. However, none of the patients with negative CSF cytology but positive FCI had a CNS relapse. Conclusions: FCI of the CSF increased the detection rate of CNS involvement of ALL approximately two times compared to cytomorphology. Patients with low-level CNS involvement may benefit from additional intensified systemic or CNS-directed therapy, but larger studies are needed. Pediatr Blood Cancer 2015;62:951-956.


  • Susanna Ranta
  • Frans Nilsson
  • Arja Harila-Saari
  • Leonie Saft
  • Edneia Tani
  • Stefan Söderhäll
  • Anna Porwit
  • Magnus Hultdin
  • Ulrika Noren-Nyström
  • Mats Heyman
External organisations
  • Karolinska University Hospital
  • Umeå University
  • University of Toronto
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Cancer and Oncology


  • Cerebrospinal fluid, Cytology, Flow cytometric immunophenotyping, Leukemia
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-956
JournalPediatric Blood & Cancer
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes