Immunotherapy show promise for neuroblastoma, study finds
For the first time in more than a decade, doctors are reporting a breakthrough for one of the most deadly childhood cancers: neuroblastoma.
It is the second-most common solid cancer in children, responsible for 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths.
Doctors hope the new treatment, called immunotherapy, will change that.
Cody Johnson was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma when he was only 2 years old.
"It was in his jaw all the way down to his feet," recalled Cody's mother, Diane Johnson. "So it was everywhere."
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that typically affects children ages five or younger.
Sadly, Cody lost his battle with cancer last year.
"He would have been 8 Sept. 11th, this past sept 11th he would have been 8 years old," said Cody's father, Mickey Johnson.
A just-released study found a treatment called immunotherapy improved survival rates for children suffering from high-risk neuroblastoma by twenty percent at two years when compared to standard therapy.
Doctors at Georgetown University Hospital took part in the study, and say this targeted therapy stimulates a patient's immune system, and will likely become the new standard of care.
"This antibody will attach to the neuroblastoma cells in the body," said Dr. Amal Abu-Ghosh, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Georgetown but who was not an author of the study. "It causes stimulation of your own immune system against the cancer cells."
Researchers report possible side effects include intense pain during treatment, and fluid leaking from blood vessels.
"The side effects are there, but manageable and tolerable compared to what we see with chemotherapy," said Dr. Abu-Ghosh.
The Johnsons say the treatment is a good step, but they want a cure. They have set up a foundation called Cody's Crew to raise funds to fight neuroblastoma.
"There are a lot of little children out there battling the same thing he was battling and they need somebody to speak for them," said Mickey Johnson.
"It's just not right for a little child to grow up that way," Diane Johnson added.
Relapse is a common and devastating problem for high-risk neuroblastoma patients. Doctors say while this study's improved survival rates after two years is promising, it will be very important to continue monitoring the patients for future relapses and long-term survival.
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