Survival rates have improved in the United States for children with three common types of blood cancer since the 1990s, thanks to improved treatment, researchers in Germany said on Tuesday.
The study tracked rising survival rates in the five and 10 years after children were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common childhood cancer, as well as acute non-lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Survival rates for a fourth similar type of cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, did not change, they found.
Leukemia and lymphoma make up 40 percent to 60 percent of all childhood cancer cases.
For ALL, under 10 percent of children in the early 1970s lived for 10 years after diagnosis. Their survival rates now top 80 percent, according to the study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Researchers led by Dr. Hermann Brenner of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg used U.S. government cancer data for their study.
They said better treatments drove the survival gains and expressed hoped the findings would help families feel less fear when a child is diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma.
Dr. Barton Kamen, chief medical officer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said the improved treatment included new combinations of existing drugs.
For example, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, “we haven’t really added a new drug in 30 to 40 years,” Kamen said.
“We’ve got new combinations and we’ve learned who needs a (bone marrow) transplant and we’ve learned who needs intensification,” Kamen said in a telephone interview.
Five-year survival rates for children under age 15 with ALL rose to 88 percent in the 2000-2004 period from 80 percent for the 1990-1994 period. Ten-year survival rates rose to 84 percent from 73 percent over the same time, the researchers said.
Five-year survival rates for acute non-lymphoblastic leukemia rose to 60 percent from 42 percent during the study periods, and its 10-year survival rates jumped to 59 percent from 39 percent, the researchers said.
Five-year survival for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the most common cancer of the lymphatic system, rose to 88 percent from 77 percent during the study periods, and 10-year survival rates rose to 87 percent from 73 percent, the researchers found.
Kamen said that at some point, survival rates may level off at a high percentage. “We’re going to be stuck pending a new drug or better understanding of the diseases,” Kamen added.