October 4, 2010

Kids and Chemo: Not a Good Combo

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Chemotherapy is not as beneficial to young children when it comes to fighting certain forms of cancer as previously thought. It's a new finding that could change how cancer in young children is treated.

Neuroblastoma, which attacks the nervous system, affects 650 children each year in the United States. Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in young children that begins in the child's nerve tissues. Most commonly, the tumor will originate in the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys. It is not uncommon, however, to see it originate in places such as the chest, abdomen, neck or pelvis. Researchers conducted an eight year clinical trial at the University of California. "Our goal was to reduce the level of chemotherapy needed to effectively treat intermediate-risk neuroblastoma patients while maintaining an excellent rate of survival, and that is exactly what we did," Katherine Matthay, M.D., chief of pediatric oncology at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, was quoted as saying.

The clinical trial tested 479 patients. The goal was to reduce chemotherapy exposure to those children suffering from intermediate-risk neuroblastoma by at least 40 percent, but still sustain the 90 percent survival rate that is achieved by using higher doses of chemotherapy. Researchers believe too much chemotherapy in young children will affect the child's body development and growth because young children are sensitive to the toxins in cancer drugs.

Researchers reduced chemotherapy treatments in length by 70 percent, from ten cycles, down to four cycles over a three month period. The results showed a 96 percent survival rate for three years and those with favorable disease biology, had a survival rate of 98 percent. Surprisingly, even the children with unfavorable disease biology maintained a 93 percent survival rate after three years. Dr. Matthay adds, if a child can survive the first 3 years after having intermediate-risk neuroblastoma, then the child has most likely been cured from the disease and doesn't have a very high chance of relapse.

"It is my hope that we will be able to continue reducing the amount of chemotherapy we give to certain groups of neuroblastoma patients, so we can improve the long-term quality of life for these children and not have to worry about them having any secondary cancers," Dr. Matthay said.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, September 30, 2010.