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Chances of a Cure

Credit: Bill Branson/NIH
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pediatric_patients_receiving_chemotherapy.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

It used to be a death sentence. Now, most children who contract the disease survive. In the last 50 years, scientists have made enormous strides in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Through their research, they have flipped the odds.

From Resignation to Remission

In the early 1960s, if you had leukemia, you were probably going to die. Children only had a 4% chance of surviving the disease. This meant that, after diagnosis, there was a 96% chance that the child would die. Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and the blood that causes the body to produce defective white blood cells. Normally, white blood cells defend against disease. When a child has leukemia, her body loses its ability to fight disease. The defective white blood cells spread throughout her body and turn against her, attacking her other cells. Without treatment, the disease is fatal.

Scientists have developed a chemotherapy protocol that halts the disease and prevents it from coming back. Before, 96% of children who had leukemia died. Now, 98% of children go into remission within 6 weeks of starting chemotherapy, which means that there are no more detectable cancer cells in their bodies. 90% of children are totally cured of the disease, which means that they remain cancer-free for 10 or more years. Leukemia is still a serious illness, but it's no longer a death sentence.

Credit: NIH
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scientist_looking_thorugh_microscope.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Today, researchers hope that they can help children beat other, less common cancers. For instance, fewer than 10% of children who have certain kinds of brain cancers survive. 90% die within a few years of starting treatment. Scientists hope that by combining drugs, gene therapy, and radiation, they can shrink these tumors and flip the odds of survival for these young patients.

See for yourself: http://vimeo.com/74429263

Explore More

Read the article and watch the videos below to learn more about the research being done at hospitals to help children beat cancer.





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