Professor Andy Pearson, scientist at The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital has co-chaired an international study to develop a global blueprint for the treatment of the most common childhood cancer - neuroblastoma, which affects an estimated 11,000 children each year worldwide.
The 25 country report has led to the creation of the International Neuroblastoma Risk Group Classification System, with the results published in two papers in the Journal of Clinical Oncology December 1.
Professor Pearson, alongside co-author Professor Susan Cohn at the University of Chicago are extremely optimistic about improving standards of care for all neuroblastoma patients. Professor Andrew Pearson comments:
“This tailored strategy will hopefully replace the existing ‘one size fits all’ approach utilised across the world. It streamlines the process for identifying what stage the disease is at and how aggressive it is, and clearly identifies how much treatment each child should receive.”
“In this way, we hope that children with neuroblastoma will receive the best possible chance of a cure, keeping the level of treatment and the associated side-effects to a minimum.”
The new strategy will be used by the International Neuroblastoma Risk Group (INRG) which represents paediatric oncologists treating neuroblastoma patients treated in Europe, Japan, the USA, Canada, and Australia.
Survival rates overall for children with cancer have improved dramatically in recent years. However, more than half of children with neuroblastoma will present the aggressive, high-risk disease, which is more likely to relapse and is linked with a poor rate of recovery.
“How neuroblastoma attacks the body varies dramatically in each patient and, up until now, it has been difficult to accurately predict the progression of the disease. With these systems, we will be able to choose appropriate treatments based on the evidence of relevant risk factors.” Professor Pearson says.
Neuroblastoma, a cancer of the developing nervous system, is one of the most common types of childhood cancers, causing 15 per cent of all childhood cancer deaths in the UK. Its different forms vary in severity: while some cases in young children disappear with minimal treatment, cases in older children can be relentlessly aggressive. Identifying the form is therefore crucial in planning appropriate treatment.
Bethany Hankin was diagnosed with aggressive neuroblastoma aged 18 months. Now 3 years old and in remission, her mother Katie Hankin is eager to see better information for doctors:
“The harsh reality is that neuroblastoma is one of the most aggressive childhood cancers, yet receives very little attention. During Bethany’s first course of treatment, we had been told parts of her diagnosis, but not the exact status of her disease. Neuroblastoma is such an unpredictable disease, any research that helps doctors make a more informed diagnosis sooner can only be a blessing for families.”
This new research was funded by the William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation and Little Heroes Paediatric Cancer Research Foundation, and offers clearer direction for diagnosis and risk assessment for clinicians on a global level.
The first of the two papers proposes the International Neuroblastoma Risk Group (INRG) classification system. The paper focuses on the personalisation of treatment by classifying neuroblastoma based on 13 factors.
The second paper replaces the current four stage system of diagnosis of neuroblastoma based on a new International Neuroblastoma Risk Group Staging System (INRGSS.)
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