To examine whether anesthesia exposure is associated with neurocognitive decline in pediatric medulloblastoma.
Patients were treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and completed ≥2 protocol-directed neurocognitive assessments (n = 107) as part of a multisite clinical trial for pediatric medulloblastoma (NCT00085202). Patients received risk-adapted craniospinal photon irradiation, followed by four cycles of high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell rescue. Neurocognitive testing was completed at study baseline (after surgery and <2 weeks of starting radiation therapy) and annually for 5 years. Data on anesthesia exposure during treatment was abstracted from medical records.
Patients were 10.2 years at diagnosis on average (SD = 4.5; 37% female, 73% average-risk). Mean cumulative anesthesia duration was 20.4 h (SD = 15.2; range 0.7-55.6 h). In the overall group, longer anesthesia duration was associated with greater declines in IQ (Estimate = -0.08, P < 0.001), attention (Estimate = -0.10, P < .001) and processing speed (Estimate = -0.13, P < 0.001). Similar results were shown in subgroups of patients who were <7 years at diagnosis (IQ = -0.14, P = 0.027; Attention = -0.25: P = 0.011), ≥7 years at diagnosis (Attention = -0.07, P = 0.039; Processing Speed = -0.08, P = 0.022), treated for high-risk disease (IQ = -0.09, P = 0.024; Attention = -0.11, P = 0.034; Processing Speed = -0.13, P = 0.001), or treated for average-risk disease (IQ = -0.05, P = .022; Attention = -0.08, P = 0.011; Processing Speed = -0.10, P < 0.001).
Greater anesthesia exposure is a risk factor for clinically significant neurocognitive decline, in addition to factors of age at diagnosis and treatment risk arm. This result is notable as there are evidence-based strategies that can limit the need for anesthesia. Limiting anesthesia exposure, as feasible, may mitigate neurocognitive late effects, and thus, improve quality of life for survivors.

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