Chemotherapy given with shorter intervals between treatments than conventional chemotherapy increases survival rates by two thirds in children with high-risk neuroblastoma, according to a study published in the Lancet Oncology* today (Tuesday).

The ten year trial co-ordinated in six countries by scientists from the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group(CCLG)**, funded by Cancer Research UK, studied the effects of administering chemotherapy every 10 rather than 21 days at 1.8 times the conventional dose on 262 children with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the special developing nerve cells.

They found five-year event-free survival*** rates increased by 12 per cent in the group with the rapid 10-day technique and a reduction in the time taken to move on to the next stage of treatment by 55 days. Survival in the rapid treatment group was 30.2 per cent, compared with 18.2 per cent in the standard treatment group.

Neuroblastoma affects around 90 children each year in the UK and the high-risk type of the disease is one of the main causes of cancer-related deaths in children. Researchers in this study treated children over the age of one with high-risk, stage four neuroblastoma – the most aggressive form of the disease.

Treatment for advanced neuroblastoma occurs in five phases. The first phase – an initial round of chemotherapy – is given every 21 days in the standard regimes. This is followed by surgery, high dose chemotherapy, radiotherapy and, finally, treatment with more drugs.

The results of this trial have led to the roll out of the more rapid chemotherapy method across Europe.

Professor Andy Pearson, lead author of the paper and Cancer Research UK’s professor of paediatric oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, said: “Our method of chemotherapy increases the survival rates for children with high risk neuroblastoma and is already saving the lives of many children. Using a higher dose and having chemotherapy with shorter breaks between each treatment means that fewer children will die from the disease each year.

“This step forward in the treatment of high risk neuroblastoma wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the parents of the children involved in the trial.

“Our study is the foundation of the current European study of high-risk neuroblastoma, which has already recruited over 10,000 children and investigates new therapies, hoping to improve further the outcome of these children. In the future, improvements will occur by developing new anti-cancer drugs which we are doing at The Institute of Cancer Research.”

Dr Bruce Morland, chairman of the CCLG, said: “This type of chemotherapy is a much better building block for this most severe form of neuroblastoma compared to conventional methods. Thanks to this study, children across Europe with this type of cancer will now receive more intensive therapy early in their treatment and have a significantly greater chance to survive their battle against the disease.”

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, said: “On the strength of the results of this trial, all children in Europe will receive a more effective treatment for this disease. Overall survival rates for children’s cancers have been rapidly improving, but it’s crucial we support trials like this that tackle the challenge of advanced cancer.”


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*Randomised trial of high dose rapid schedule induction chemotherapy with conventional schedule for stage 4 neuroblastoma over the age of one year. Pearson et al. 2008. Lancet Oncology.

The trial was conducted in Belgium, Denmark, Eire, Norway, Sweden and the UK.

**The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group

Cancer Research UK is the major funding provider of the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (formally the UK Children’s Cancer Study Group) and funds the UK clinical trials work of the group via its coordinating centre in Leicester and 21 paediatric centres throughout the British Isles.

The Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group is the national professional body responsible for the organisation, treatment and management of virtually all children with cancer in the UK. The group is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading childhood cancer clinical trial groups who have made a significant contribution to the international success in treating childhood cancer, resulting in improvements in survival.

Cancer Research UK is the largest supporter of research into children’s cancer in the UK. The charity is committed to improving survival and quality of life for every child with cancer.

About Neuroblastoma

Five-year survival rates for neuroblastoma have increased from 19 per cent among those diagnosed between 1966 and 1970, to 59 per cent among those diagnosed between 1996 and 2000.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of 5 years. Around 90 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma and there are around 35 deaths from the disease each year in the UK.

Neuroblastoma originates from the cells involved in the development of a baby’s nervous tissue. The cells that it develops from are called ‘neuroblasts.

***Survival without disease progression or relapse.

About The Institute of Cancer Research

  • The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.
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