Modern treatment strategies, consisting of intensive chemotherapy and cranial irradiation, have remarkably improved the prognosis for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. However, patients with a potential for cure are at risk of severe acute and late adverse effects of treatment. Furthermore, in 25-30% of patients treatment still fails. The objectives of the DCLSG study ALL 8 were to decrease the toxicity and to increase the effectivity of BFM-oriented treatment. Decrease of toxicity was aimed at by confirmation of the results of the previous DCLSG study ALL-7, showing that the majority (94%) of children with ALL can succesfully be treated with BFM-oriented therapy without cranial irradiation, and by reduction of treatment for standard risk (SRG) patients. To increase the cure rate in medium risk (MRG) patients the efficacy of high doses of intravenous 6-mercaptopurine (HD-6MP) during protocol M and in SRG patients the efficacy of high doses Of L-asparaginase (HD-L-ASP) during maintenance treatment was studied in randomized studies. Patient stratification and treatment were identical to protocol ALL-BFM90, with the following differences: no prophylactic cranial irradiation, SRG patients received only phase 1 of protocol 1. Four hundred and sixty-seven patients entered the protocol: 170 SRG, 241 MRG and 56 HRG patients. The 5 years event-free survival rate for all patients was 73% (s.e. 2%); for SRG, MRG and HRG patients 85% (s.e. 3%), 73% (s.e. 3%) and 39% (s.e. 7%), respectively. In patients >1 year of age at diagnosis unfavorable prognostic factors were male sex, >25% blasts in the bone marrow at day 15 and initial white blood cell count (WBC) >50 x 10(9)/l. The cumulative risk of CNS relapse rate was 5% (s.e. 1%) at 5 years. These results confirm that the omission of cranial irradiation in BFM-oriented treatment does not jeopardize the overall good treatment results, nor does early reduction of chemotherapy in SRG patients. No benefit was observed from treatment intensification with HD-L-ASP in SRG patients, nor from HD-6MP in MRG patients.