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A multicenter case-control study on predictive factors distinguishing childhood leukemia from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

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Jones, O. Y.; Spencer, C. H.; Bowyer, S. L.; Dent, P. B.; Gottlieb, B. S.; Rabinovich, C. E.

OBJECTIVE: Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) often presents with musculoskeletal concerns such as pain or swelling, even before appearance of blasts in the peripheral blood. Such presentation may lead to misdiagnosis of a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). This study was designed to identify the predictive factors for leukemia using basic clinical and laboratory information. METHODS: A retrospective chart review was performed using a simple questionnaire to compare the clinical and laboratory findings present during the initial visit to a pediatric rheumatology clinic for 277 children who were ultimately diagnosed with either JRA (n = 206) or ALL (n = 71). Sensitivity and specificity analysis of a variety of parameters, both singly and in combination, was performed to identify predictive value for ALL. RESULTS: The majority (75%) of children with ALL did not have blasts in the peripheral blood at the time of evaluation by pediatric rheumatologists. In children presenting with unexplained musculoskeletal complaints, the 3 most important factors that predicted a diagnosis of ALL were low white blood cell count (< 4 x 10(9)/L), low-normal platelet count (150-250 x 10(9)/L), and history of nighttime pain. In the presence of all 3, the sensitivity and specificity for a diagnosis of ALL were 100% and 85%, respectively. Other findings, including antinuclear antibody, rash, and objective signs of arthritis, were not helpful in differentiating between these diagnoses because they occurred at similar rates in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: When a child develops new-onset bone-joint complaints, the presence of subtle complete blood count changes combined with nighttime pain should lead to consideration of leukemia as the underlying cause.

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