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Better treatment for children with brain cancer

Young children diagnosed with a malignant type of brain tumour will benefit from research that has taken twelve years to complete.

In the search for better ways of treating children with brain cancer the study, carried out by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group at The University of Nottingham, revealed that a significant proportion of children under the age of three, with the brain tumour ependymoma, can be spared, or have delayed, the effects of radiotherapy by using chemotherapy — without compromising their chances of survival. The trial results were published in the Lancet Oncology on 20th July, 2007.

Experts in the field of childhood cancer recognise that radiotherapy can be harmful to a young child’s developing brain. It can affect IQ, short term memory, growth and puberty. The effective treatment of patients under the age of five remains, say the researchers, one of the more difficult tasks in paediatric oncology.

The trial was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Samantha Dickson Brain Tumour Trust. The study’s author, Professor Richard Grundy, from the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre (CBTRC), at The University of Nottingham said: “We know that radiotherapy can be harmful to the developing brain, so avoiding it, or using it at an older age if needed will hopefully reduce any learning difficulties these children may develop without compromising their chance of a cure”.

Every year over 450 children are diagnosed with a brain tumour in the UK. Established in 1997 the CBTRC is committed to developing new methods of research to help find a cure whilst minimising the risk of disability.

The survival rate for children diagnosed with ependymoma is getting better, but remains unacceptably low. Professor Grundy said: “It is now clear that if we are to improve the outcome for children with ependymoma we need a better understanding of the underlying biology of the disease.” Research fellows in Professor Grundy’s laboratory at the CBTRC are currently involved in a collaborative project with St Jude Children's Research Hospital in the USA and the Hospital for Sick Children to gain a better understanding of the biology of this disease in the hope of improving outcomes.

Emma Thorne | alfa
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