The dramatic increase that has occurred in the cure rate for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) will be difficult to replicate in older patients without considerable additional research, according to an article by St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital authors that appears in the March 22 issue of the Lancet.
In order to raise the survival rate of adolescents and adults with ALL, researchers will need a more thorough understanding of the biology of this form of leukemia, including the role that genes play in therapies, according to Ching-Hon Pui, M.D., chair of the St. Jude Department of Oncology and a leading ALL researcher. Currently, adolescents treated for ALL do not fare as well as children; and among adults with ALL, only 30 to 40 percent are cured.
Cure rates for children with ALLdefined as 10 years of cancer-free survivalwere about 4 percent when St. Jude opened its doors in 1962; but by the end of that decade researchers showed for the first time that treatments using a combination of existing cancer drugs significantly improved ALL survival. Subsequent research at St. Jude contributed in large part to the current high cure rate achieved in children with ALL over the past four decades
ALL is characterized by an abnormal growth of immune-system cells called lymphocytes. About 5,400 new cases will be diagnosed in the United States in 2008, 60 percent of them in children up to age 18. The peak age of diagnosis is 2 to 5 years.
Today, pediatric ALL patients at St. Jude have a cure rate approaching 90 percent, Pui said. We already have 94 percent surviving at 5 years.
In The Lancet article, Pui and his colleagues noted that researchers are investigating two areas of molecular science that hold promise for improving the survival and quality of life of ALL patients, including adolescents and adults.
One is gene-expression profiling, which measures the amount of messenger RNA made by differ
|Contact: Summer Freeman|
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital