T cell acute lymphocytic leukemia (T-ALL) and B-precursor ALL differ significantly in the clinical characteristics of the patients at presentation and in laboratory-defined characteristics of the leukemic cells. We assessed for pediatric patients with T-ALL the relative importance of prognostic factors previously demonstrated to predict outcome in B-precursor ALL. Presenting clinical and laboratory features were correlated with outcome for 441 children 12 months to 21 years of age with previously untreated T-ALL, registered on the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG) T3 protocol between 1986 and 1992. These T-ALL prognostic factor analyses were then compared to similar analyses for 1993 patients with B-precursor ALL enrolled during the same time period on the POG ALinC 14 protocol. Quantitative interaction between phenotype and each prognostic factor was studied to determine the relative importance of the prognostic factor for each of the two major immunophenotypes. We also analyzed the importance of maturational stage as a T-ALL prognostic factor, using a modified Ludwig definition of maturational stage. We conclude that several of the clinical and laboratory prognostic factors, which are used reliably for B-precursor ALL, are much less predictive in T-ALL (ie age, WBC, consensus risk group, hyperdiploidy, presence of translocations and CALLA expression). There was no significant difference between the phenotypes in the prognostic importance of race or gender. Our data demonstrate a significant difference in outcome among the three maturational stages of T-cell ALL, with the intermediate group faring best. Using traditional risk group criteria to stratify patients with T-ALL for therapy may not be appropriate.