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Radiation “avoidable for leukaemia”


Researchers claim that injecting chemotherapy drugs into the blood of children with leukaemia can be just as good as radiation without the cognitive complications.

According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 86% of the 498 children with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) given chemotherapy through injections into the blood or fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord survived, cancer-free, for five years.

Traditionally radiation was used to treat ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer, but the treatment can cause additional tumours, stunted growth, hormone imbalances and thinking problems.

Despite this, 20% of the 3,400 youngsters in the US who are diagnosed with ALL each year are given the radiation treatment in the hope of preventing a relapse.

But this new study found that among 71 patients who normally would have received brain irradiation in the past, the five-year survival rate was 91%.

This was far better than the 73% survival rate for a comparison group consisting of children who had previously received the radiation therapy for their ALL.

Mary Relling of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, who worked on the study, said: “We believe children with ALL do not need to get cranial irradiation preventively, which is different from what some centres recommend.”

Copyright Press Association 2009

New England Journal of Medicine, Volume 350:1535-1548

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