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Trial results show dramatically improved survival for relapsed childhood leukaemia

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by Cancer Research UK | News

4 December 2010

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A new treatment increases survival to almost 70 per cent for children whose acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) returns, according to the results of a trial published online in the Lancet today (Saturday)1.

The results of the trial – funded by Cancer Research UK and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research2 – were so promising that now all children with relapsed ALL are being offered the trial drug Mitoxantrone.

Two hundred and sixteen children across the UK, Australia and New Zealand took part in the trial, 111 were given the standard treatment Idarubicin and 105 were given Mitoxantrone.

After three years, 69 per cent of children given Mitoxantrone had survived the disease, compared to 45 per cent of those given Idarubicin.

Professor Vaskar Saha, a Cancer Research UK paediatric oncologist based at the Paterson Institute in Manchester, said: “These striking results show just what a powerful drug Mitoxantrone is in treating children whose leukaemia has returned, offering hope to many families across the country.”

The significant increase in survival seen in this trial has resulted in Mitoxantrone being offered to all children with relapsed ALL since 2008. As well as improving survival, children given Mitoxantrone also experienced fewer side effects.

Over the last 30 years the number of children who have survived ALL has risen from 50 to over 80 per cent but similar improvements have not been seen in children whose cancer returns. It remains the leading cause of cancer death in children and survival for children whose leukaemia returns had until now remained constant at around 50 per cent.

Professor Saha added: “As a result of this trial, Mitoxantrone is now the standard treatment for relapsed ALL, and is having a significant impact on the number of children who beat the disease worldwide. This is the first time that a trial in ALL has been stopped so early after one drug had such clear benefits for patients.”

The news comes a month after Cancer Research UK launched their annual Little Stars Awards. Now in their eighth year, the Little Star Awards recognise the courage of children who have encountered cancer and are backed by a host of celebrities including singer Leona Lewis and footballer Ryan Giggs.

Unlike many other children’s awards, there is no judging panel because Cancer Research UK and TK Maxx believe each and every child who confronts cancer is special.

Kate Law, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, said: “These exciting results highlight the impact that research is continuing to have to help more children beat the disease. Cancer Research UK is the largest funder of research and trials into childhood cancers in the UK. Today, thanks to research like this, more than three quarters of children beat cancer, compared to a quarter in the 1960s.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.

1. Parker C., et al Mitoxantrone improves outcome of children with first relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – results of the randomised ALL R3 trial (2010) Lancet