cancer breakthrough

A Year In Cancer Discovery: Top 5 Childhood Cancer Breakthroughs Of 2015

As we prepare to ring in the new year here at Children’s, I’m hopeful about the future of cancer care and treatment.

With each passing day and steady advances in cancer discovery, we are a step closer to curing childhood cancers. The upcoming year holds promise for pediatric cancer care.

With that said, it’s important to look back at 2015 and recognize all the hard work that has gone into childhood cancer research nationwide.

There have been many breakthroughs in therapy and treatment for childhood cancers. Here’s a list of the top 5 childhood cancer breakthroughs of 2015.

1. A Link Found Between Gene Mutations And Leukemia

This is exciting news for creating new therapies against high-risk leukemia.

A mutation in a particular gene—the IKZF1 gene—contributes to a high-risk leukemia subtype, according to a September 2015 study in the medical journal Cancer Cell.

Researchers were also able to identify retinoids like vitamin A, which regulate cell growth, as a possible new cancer therapy enhancer to better treat the mutated gene.

Currently, studies have only been performed in mice, so it will take some time before it is known if this treatment is effective in people.

2. The Discovery Of Signals That Promote Cancerous Tumors

This discovery has potential implications for the development of new treatments for the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, which is a cancerous tumor that grows in nerve tissue.

A team of researchers investigated a signaling network involving three cancer-causing genes and found abnormal molecular signals and biological events that cause neuroblastoma to develop, according to a November 2015 study in Cancer Cell.

It could be years before we actually see the treatments developed from this discovery, but it may hold clues for developing more effective and targeted treatments.

3. DNA Sequencing And Counseling In Pediatric Cancer Treatment Shows Benefit

Adding in data from genomic sequencing—a lab process that determines the complete DNA sequence at one time—into a patient’s treatment plan benefited nearly half of young cancer patients, says a September 2015 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Having the entire DNA profile available early on led to changes in treatment for a small portion of patients. Although this approach is still experimental in many situations, it offers promise to providing targeted therapy in the future.

cancer breakthrough

4. Antibiotics For Better Mortality Rates And Lower ICU Needs

The use of antibiotics has been under some scrutiny these past few years. In pediatric cancer care, that scrutiny has brought about some improvements in the care we provide for our patients.

Young cancer patients with fever and low neutrophil counts have less intensive care needs and lower mortality when given antibiotics within 60 minutes of arrival at the hospital, reports a May 2015 study in the journal of Pediatric Blood & Cancer.

Being aware that time is of the essence when it comes to antibiotics use for childhood cancers, at Children’s, we have implemented a project to decrease the time it takes for patients with fever and neutropenia to receive antibiotics in the emergency room and our clinics.

5. Therapy Dogs May Help Calm Patients Undergoing Treatment

As parents, you might intuitively know your family pet has a calming effect on your child. But solid data exists to support those gut feelings.

Animal-assisted interventions using therapy dogs can lower stress levels of pediatric cancer patients and their parents, according to an ongoing study released in October 2015 by the Academy of American Pediatrics.

The study is not yet complete, but current findings suggest there may be benefits to incorporating treatment methods outside of drug and chemo therapies.

As you can see, the scientists involved in pediatric cancer care have been very busy. It may be some time before we see the findings of these studies put into practice since further research is needed, but it sure helps us look to 2016 with renewed hope.

Jill Beck
I've been an oncologist since 2010. With pediatric oncology, you get continuity of care with families—so you care for children when they're really sick and see them get better.

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