Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma may live longer if they are given two stem cell transplants, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine found that neuroblastoma patients who received double stem cell transplant can take two chemotherapy rounds, which improves the chance of removing more cancer cells in their body.

In their study including 652 new cases of advanced neuroblastoma, they found that as much as 61.4 percent of children given the two stem cell transplants children lived three years after diagnosis and remains cancer-free. This is in comparison to 48.4 percent of those who only had one stem cell transplant.

The survival rate is even higher when the kids were given immunotherapy drugs. Two stem cell transplant and immunotherapy patients had a at 73.2 percent survival rate, while those who had one round of stem cell therapy plus immunotherapy had a survival rate of 55.5 percent.

"This finding will change the way we treat children with high-risk neuroblastoma in North America, which still claims many young lives and is in urgent need of better treatments," said lead researcher Julie Park, who is also a Pediatrics professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Neuroblastoma is a malignancy that targets the sympathetic nervous system, which regulate automatic functions of the body. It ranks as the second most common cancer in children and the most common in infants, with an incidence of 700 cases annually.

Less than 50 percent of children with advanced neuroblastoma survive five years or more after initial diagnosis.

One reason for this is the toxicity of the chemotherapy used — 10 times more toxic than regular chemotherapy. Park said the standard chemotherapy for high-risk neuroblastoma is the most aggressive therapy given in any form of cancers in children.

The conundrum is that high-doses of the chemotherapy improves the children's survival but causes severe bone marrow damages. The researchers said that if the children undergo stem cell transplant, bone marrow health can be improved.

Park said neuroblastoma patients without recurrence within three years from diagnosis have better long-term survival rates. She also added that the second chemotherapy did not cause toxicity problems for the children.

Australian scientists from the Children's Cancer Institute have earlier developed an experimental drug that can prevent the molecular loop that causes tumor progression.

The study is presented during the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago on June 5.

Photo: Tareq Salahuddin | Flickr

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