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New Treatment Boosts Survival Chances for Child Leukaemia

A prototype method of treating infants with a form of leukaemia boosts their chances of survival compared with the standard drug regimen, according to a paper published in next Saturday's Lancet.

In general, children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia have a good chance of survival -- about 80 percent today, compared with only 10 percent 40 years ago.

But this success rate drops significantly in infants aged under 12 months, where it falls to a range of 17-45 percent.

Dutch doctors carried out a study of 482 infants from 22 countries who were aged under one year and had been diagnosed with the disease.

In addition to the standard drug for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia -- a treatment called Prednisone -- the children were given tiny doses of drugs usually designed for treating a related form of cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia.

The key ingredient was Cytabarine, which in lab-dish tests have been shown to be highly effective against lymphoblasts, as immature lymphocyte cells are called.

At the 38-month followup mark, 260 (58 percent) of the patients who received this "hybrid" treatment were in complete remission.

Meanwhile, a separate study, also published in The Lancet, highlights new combination chemotherapy for chronic lymphyocytic leukaemia, the commonest form of leukaemia in the developed world.

Institute of Cancer Research doctors in Britain found that fludarabine (marketed as Fludara) and chlorambucil (Leukeran), when used together, were no better than fludarabine alone or chorambucil alone in boosting a patient's chance of survival five years after treatment.

However, the combination more than tripled the chance that the disease had not progressed by the time of the five-year checkup.


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