Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) is a serious chronic leukemia (cancer of the blood) that affects children mostly aged 4 and under. The average age of patients at diagnosis is 2 years old. The World Health Organization has included JMML in the category of Myelodysplastic and Myeloproliferative disorders. The name JMML now encompasses all diagnoses formerly referred to as Juvenile Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (JCML), Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia of Infancy, and Infantile Monosomy 7 Syndrome.
JMML accounts for 1-2% of childhood leukemias each year; in the United States, an estimated 25-50 new cases are diagnosed each year, which also equates to about 3 cases per million children. There is no known environmental cause for JMML. Since about 10% of patients are diagnosed before 3 months of age, it is thought that JMML is a congenital condition in these infants.
- 15-20% of patients with neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1)
- Another 35% of patients with a mutation in a gene called PTPN11 (again, only in their leukemia cells).
The following symptoms are typical ones which lead parents and doctors to test for JMML, though children with JMML may exhibit any combination of them:
- Poor weight gain
- Macular-papular (discolored but not raised, or small and raised but not containing pus), often red, skin rash
- Lymphadenopathy (enlarged lymph nodes)
- Moderate hepatomegaly (enlarged liver)
- Marked splenomegaly (enlarged spleen)
- Leukocytosis (high white blood cell count in blood)
- Absolute monocytosis (high monocyte count in blood)
- Anemia (low red blood cell count in blood)
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count in blood)
Children with JMML and Neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) (about 14% of children with JMML are also clinically diagnosed with NF1, though up to 30% carry the NF1 gene mutation) may also exhibit any of the following symptoms associated with NF1 (in general, only young children with NF1 are at an increased risk of developing JMML):
- 6 or more café-au-lait (flat, coffee-colored) spots on the skin
- 2 or more neurofibromas (pea-size bumps that are noncancerous tumors) on or under the skin
- Plexiform neurofibromas (larger areas on skin that appear swollen)
- Optic glioma (a tumor on the optic nerve that affects vision)
- Freckles under the arms or in the groin
- 2 or more Lisch nodules (tiny tan or brown-colored spots on the iris of the eye)
- Various bone deformations including bowing of the legs below the knee, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), or thinning of the shin bone
Children with JMML and Noonan’s Syndrome may also exhibit any of the following most-common symptoms associated with Noonan’s Syndrome:
- Congenital heart defects, in particular, pulmonic stenosis (a narrowing of the valve from the heart to the lungs)
- Undescended testicles in males
- Excess skin and low hair line on back of neck
- Widely set eyes
- Diamond-shaped eyebrows
- Ears that are low-set, backward-rotated, thick outer rim
- Deeply-grooved philtrum (upper lip line)
- Learning delays
The following criteria are required in order to diagnose JMML:
All 3 of the following:
- No Philadelphia chromosome or BCR/ABL fusion gene.
- Peripheral blood monocytosis >1 x 109/L.
- Less than 20% blasts (including promonocytes) in the blood and bone marrow (blast count is less than 2% on average)
Two or more of the following criteria:
- Hemoglobin F increased for age.
- Immature granulocytes and nucleated red cells in the peripheral blood.
- White blood cell count>1 x 109/L.
- Clonal chromosomal abnormality (e.g., monosomy 7).
- Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) hypersensitivity of myeloid progenitors in vitro.
These criteria are identified through blood tests and bone marrow tests.
Blood tests: A Combined Blood Count (CBC) will be performed on a child suspected of having JMML and throughout the treatment and recovery of a child diagnosed with JMML.
NOTE: JMML can show many of the same signs as infectious diseases like Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, human herpesvirus 6, histoplasma, mycobacteria, and toxoplasma. Therefore, it is important that your doctor rule out these other potential causes of your child’s symptoms during the diagnosis process.
There is no internationally accepted treatment protocol for JMML. Currently, 2 clinical treatment protocols most widely used to study JMML and improve treatment for these children are geographically-based:
- North America: The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) JMML Study
- Europe: The European Working Group for Myelodysplastic Syndromes (EWOG-MDS) JMML Study
- Other clinical trials open to patients with JMML may be searched for at the NIH Clinical Trials website.
The following procedures are used in one or both of the current clinical trials listed above:
- Low-dose conventional chemotherapy: Studies have shown no influence from low-dose conventional chemotherapy on JMML patients’ length of survival. Some combinations of 6-mercaptopurine with other chemotherapy drugs have produced results such as decrease in organ size and increase or normalization of platelet and leukocyte count.
- Intensive chemotherapy: Complete remission from JMML has not been possible through use of intensive chemotherapy, but it is still used at times because it has improved the condition of a small but significant number of JMML patients who do not display an aggressive disease. The COG JMML Study administers 2 cycles of fludarabine and cytarabine for 5 consecutive days along with 13-cis retinoic acid during and afterwards. The EWOG-MDS JMML Study, however, does not recommend intensive chemotherapy before bone marrow transplant.
- 13-cis Retinoic acid (a.k.a. Accutane): In the lab, 13-cis-retinoic acid has been proven to inhibit the growth of JMML cells. The COG JMML Study therefore includes 13-cis-retinoic acid in its treatment protocol, though its therapeutic value for JMML remains controversial.
- Donor: Transplants from a matched family donor (MFD), matched unrelated donor (MUD), and matched unrelated umbilical cord blood donors have all shown similar relapse rates, though transplant-related deaths are higher with MUDs and mostly due to infectious causes. Extra medicinal protection, therefore, is usually given to recipients of MUD transplants to protect the child from Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD). JMML patients are justified for MUD transplants if no MFD is available due to the low rate of survival without a bone marrow transplant.
- Conditioning regimen: The COG JMML Study involves 8 rounds of total-body irradiation (TBI) and doses of cyclophosphamide to prepare the JMML child’s body for bone marrow transplant. Use of TBI is controversial, though, because of the possibility of late side-effects such as slower growth, sterility, learning disabilities, and secondary cancers, and the fact that radiation can have devastating effects on very young children. It is used in this study, however, due to the concern that chemotherapy alone might not be enough to kill dormant JMML cells. The EWOG-MDS JMML Study includes busulfan in place of TBI due to its own research findings that appeared to show that busulfan was more effective against leukemia in JMML than TBI. The EWOG-MDS study also involves cyclophosphamide and melphalan in its conditioning regimen.
- Graft versus leukemia: Graft versus leukemia has been shown many times to play an important role in curing JMML, and it is usually evidenced in a child after bone marrow transplant through some amount of acute or chronic Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD). Evidence of either acute or chronic GVHD is linked to a lower relapse rate in JMML. Careful management of immunosuppressant drugs for control of GVHD is essential in JMML; importantly, children who receive less of this prophylaxis have a lower relapse rate. After bone marrow transplant, reducing ongoing immunosuppressive therapy has worked successfully to reverse the course of a bone marrow with a dropping donor percentage and to prevent a relapse. Donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI), on the other hand, does not frequently work to bring children with JMML back into remission.
Relapse: After bone marrow transplant, the relapse rate for children with JMML may be as high as 50%. Relapse often occurs within a few months after transplant and the risk of relapse drops considerably at the one-year point after transplant. A significant number of JMML patients do achieve complete remission and long-term cure after a second bone marrow transplant, so this additional therapy should always be considered for children who relapse.
Prognosis refers to how well a patient is expected to respond to treatment based on their individual characteristics at time of diagnosis. In JMML, three characteristic areas have been identified as significant in the prognosis of patients:
|Characteristic||Values indicating a more favorable prognosis|
|Age at diagnosis||< 2 years old|
|Other existing conditions||Diagnosis of Noonan syndrome|
Without treatment, the survival of children with JMML is approximately 5%. Only Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT), commonly referred to as a bone marrow or (umbilical) cord blood transplant, has been shown to be successful in curing a child of JMML. With HSCT, recent research studies have found the survival rate to be approximately 50%. Relapse is a significant risk after HSCT for children with JMML. It is the greatest cause of death in JMML children who have had stem cell transplants. Relapse rate has been recorded as high as 50%. Many children have been brought into remission after a second stem cell transplant.