Childhood leukemia, which was once virtually a death sentence, has become an increasingly livable condition, thanks to new treatment advances.
A new study by the Children's Oncology Group has found steady increases in long-term survival among children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of pediatric cancer.
Researchers, reporting in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, said the five-year survival rate for kids with leukemia increased from 83.7 percent in the early 1990s to 90.4 percent between 2000 and 2005.
The findings were true for all children over age 1 regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or background.
"Childhood leukemia was virtually incurable until the early 1960s, but this study shows that we're 90 percent of the way toward our goal of curing all children with this disease," said lead author Dr. Stephen Hunger, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Hospital Colorado.
"New drugs and new drug combinations have increased survival rates and helped children live longer and better,” he added, “and we continue to refine these therapies. Nevertheless, we still have important work to do to help the remaining 10 percent of patients who don't survive."
The study’s findings were based on assessments of long-term survival among 21,626 individuals who were treated for leukemia from infancy to age 22 between 1990 and 2005.
Researchers said the development of new drugs -- such as methotrexate, cytarabine, and 6-mercaptopurine -- raised the five-year survival rate from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to approximately 77 percent between 1985 and 1994. Individuals treated since then have not necessarily received different drugs, but improved combinations and dosing schedules have led to additional progress.