Around 370 children are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) every year in the UK. That’s the bad news.
But there’s also good news. Over the years, our work has made a significant difference to survival for children with cancer, which you can read about on our website.
Over the past thirty years, the number of kids surviving ALL has risen from half to more than 8 out of ten, thanks to huge improvements in chemotherapy. But sometimes the treatment stops working and the cancer comes back.
One researcher trying to change the outcome for these children is Professor Vaskar Saha, a leading expert in childhood leukaemia. This Christmas, we’re trying to raise £50,000 to support Professor Saha’s vital research – with the help of some very brave postmen!
You can donate directly to Professor Saha’s work today through our MyProjects site, and watch more videos about his research and some of the children he has treated.
Over recent years, Professor Saha and his team have made many important discoveries that have made a difference to children with leukaemia – including this important finding from last year explaining why treatment doesn’t work for some children with ALL.
Now the results of a new clinical trial – run by Professor Saha and funded by Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research – bring hope by improving survival by over 50 per cent for children whose ALL has come back after treatment.
New treatment on trial
These striking results are due to a drug called mitoxantrone – a relatively cheap and widely available drug already used to treat some types of cancer in adults, as well as multiple sclerosis.
Mitoxantrone works by jamming a molecule in cancer cells responsible for untwisting DNA . Blocking this process literally ties the cell’s DNA up in knots, so it can’t grow and multiply. And as an additional bonus, the drug seems to work on cancer cells that have resisted previous treatment – even if they’re ‘hidden’ amongst healthy cells.
The trial, called ALLR3, opened in 2003 and recruited children at 22 hospitals across the UK and Ireland. This was possible thanks to the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, which co-ordinates the care of children with cancer across the whole of the UK.
In total, the researchers recruited 216 children, all of whom had been treated for ALL but whose cancer had come back. Roughly half got the current ‘gold standard’ treatment – a drug called idarubicin – while the rest got mitoxantrone.
After three years, the results were clear – nearly 70 per cent of children given mitoxantrone had survived, compared to 45 per cent on idarubicin. In fact, the difference was so stark that the trial was stopped early so all the children still in the trial could be offered the new treatment – something that hasn’t happened in any previous clinical trials for childhood ALL testing a single new drug.
Progress through research
The results are an impressive reminder of the vital importance of clinical trials in improving cancer treatment. Without trials like this – testing different treatments and carefully monitoring their impact – we simply can’t move forward. And better treatments mean more lives saved.
Cancer Research UK is the largest single funder of research into children’s cancer in the UK, and we’ve funded many of the world’s most successful trials of new treatments for children with the disease.
More children are surviving cancer every year, meaning more families are looking forward to a happy Christmas together.
But we’re not there yet. Every year hundreds of families lose children to this devastating disease, but thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we can continue to push on with groundbreaking research aimed at beating children’s cancers.
Find out more:
- Support Professor Saha’s research through MyProjects
- Our current research into children’s cancers
- Our impact in children’s cancers
- Science Update blog: Beating children’s cancers
- Children’s cancer briefsheet (pdf leaflet)
Parker, C. et al (2010). Effect of mitoxantrone on outcome of children with first relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL R3): an open-label randomised trial The Lancet DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)62002-8