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For Kids With Leukemia, Radiation May Be Safe to Skip
Date:6/24/2009

Today's chemotherapy regimen often is enough, study finds

WEDNESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- Radiation to the brain isn't necessary for most children with newly diagnosed acute lymphoblastic leukemia, new research has found.

In fact, doctors from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital found that children who had chemotherapy alone had a longer remission period and experienced fewer adverse events than those who, in the past, had also been given radiation treatments.

"Effective chemotherapy can cure up to 90 percent of all children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia without the use of cranial irradiation," said study author Dr. Ching-Hon Pui, chairman of oncology at the hospital, in Memphis, Tenn.

"Survivors of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia can now enjoy excellent quality of life, virtually similar to that of the general population," Pui said.

The study is reported in the June 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Leukemia, a cancer that begins in the bone marrow and affects blood cells, is the most common type of cancer affecting children and teens, according to the American Cancer Society. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common type of childhood leukemia, affecting about three out of every four children with the disease.

Historically, treatment included chemotherapy plus preventive radiation of the brain, according to Pui. And, though the addition of radiation was believed to improve survival, the treatment had serious side effects, including an increased risk for another cancer, cognitive deficits and growth retardation.

Chemotherapy regimens have improved over time, but fear remained that not giving children radiation would mean that residual cancer cells might be missed, allowing the leukemia to return.

The study included the evaluation of 71 children who, in the past, would have received preventive cranial radiation b
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