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Additional chemotherapy may benefit young leukemia patients

Category: Organ Specific Testing

A study conducted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ALL Consortium that analyzed nearly 500 children under 18 years old has found that children who have a severe form of leukemia may better their chances of survival by undergoing further rounds of chemotherapy and other cancer therapies.

During the study, the 500 patients who suffered from the common form of leukemia, B-ALL underwent chemotherapy treatment. A month later the patients had their bone marrow tested for leukemia cell levels to gauge their chances of the cancer coming back. Nearly 35 of the patients were at risk for a relapse, while another 16 subjects were found to have chromosomal abnormalities, which put them at an even higher risk.

Another two rounds of chemotherapy were administered to the at-risk patients along with additional treatment therapies.

Five years after the study, nearly 76 percent of the at-risk patients who received the additional chemotherapy did not experience a relapse, while less than 50 percent of the patients who only underwent one round of chemotherapy suffered a relapse.

"Though it involved a relatively small number of patients, the new trial is one of the first to show improved outcomes for this set of patients as a result of an intensified chemotherapy protocol," said study author Lewis Silverman, M.D., of the Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center.

The investigators noted that they will continue to monitor the patients to see if their cancer stays in remission.

Leukemia facts
Leukemia occurs when the bone marrow makes cancerous white blood cells. According to the National Institutes of Health, white blood cells fight infection and when too many abnormal cells are produced, they inhibit the healthy ones from warding off illnesses.

There are four main types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia. Symptoms of these conditions include weakness, fever, bruising or bleeding, running out of breath, weight loss, an unwillingness to eat, bone and stomach pain and superficial bleeding.

Leukemia's presence can be indicated with a blood test, in which doctors look for abnormal levels of white blood cells. During a physical exam a physician may look for signs of anemia, such as pale skin and swelling of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen. A healthcare provider may also order a bone marrow test, in which bone marrow is extracted from the hip bone and analyzed for leukemia cells.

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