Cancer is one of the leading causes of death among American children today. Which treatment options should these children be getting? What preventative measure can parents take?
CBS news reports on a new study concerning cancer treatments for children.
There has been a move to make cancer treatments gentler for children. Experts are saying that these gentler treatments are actually more helpful in treating kids.
Reports show that more children are surviving cancer now than in previous decades and they are also not facing the long-term complications that children in previous decades faced.
“Radiation and chemotherapy have saved countless children from leukemia and other types of cancer, but some of these treatments can damage the heart or other organs, problems that prove fatal years later,” according to CBS news.
When did the treatment options start to change?
The push to start the change began in the 1990s. Some experts wanted to try to prevent these "late effects" by giving smaller, more targeted doses of radiation, avoiding certain drugs and changing the way chemo is administered. But not all doctors were on board; some were worried about whether gentler treatments hurt a child's survival chances.
The new study tracked more than 34,000 children who had survived cancer. These people had been treated during various decades and different treatment plans and not everyone had a happy ending.
Dr. Greg Armstrong of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee commented on the study. He leads the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, funded by the National Cancer Institute. He said, “The field needs good news and this study gives it. We have actually reduced treatment, reduced therapy.”
He further stated that treating childhood cancer is one of the miracles of modern medicine. He emphasized the fact that fifty years ago less than 30 percent of kids would survive childhood cancer but now we know that over 80 percent will probably survive.
CBS explains, “That high success rate allowed doctors in the 1990s to scale back certain treatments for certain types of patients to try to spare them late effects. The study compared survival odds before and after that change.”
Experts found that the death rate 15 years after treatment ended kept getting lower, from around 12 percent for those treated from 1970-74 to 6 percent for those treated from 1990-94. People who died from late effects of cancer treatment, such as heart issues, also decreased over that period, from around 3.5 percent to 2.1 percent.
Two brothers, Garrett and Gatlin Stringer, from Huntsville, Texas, benefited from the change in treatment according to their physician, Dr. Michael Rytting at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
The boys suffered from acute lymphocytic leukemia, which is actually the most common childhood cancer. When physicians first described their treatment, their mother said they didn't really ask long-term effects, because at the time it was really just kind of day-to-day.
What were the results?
“Garrett, now 20 was diagnosed at age 7 and is now a 13-year survivor. Gatlin, now 14, was diagnosed at age 3 and is 11 years past his treatment,” according to CBS.
The two brothers got chemotherapy but because scans showed the disease had not disseminated to their spinal cords, so they did not have to have radiation.
The boys’ mother told CBS that they are ‘amazing ... no side effects at all that we know of. They're very athletic and active and have good grades’. This was one of many success stories.