New hope for children battling leukaemia

24 November 2017, 00:19

A new way of treating the most common form of childhood cancer has pushed five-year survival rates above 90%.

Around 400 children are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia every year and trials have improved the accuracy of predicting a relapse.

Professor Anthony Moorman from Newcastle University told Sky News: "What this study shows is that if you integrate two of the major risk factors, principally treatment response and also the underlying genetic make-up of the leukaemia, you can really tailor your risk factor analysis much more precisely and identify patients who are at least risk of relapse and hence can be considered for treatment de-intensification or at least spared treatment intensification."

Oscar Howard-Hull, a seven-year-old from Derby, took part in the study after being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2015.

At times, Oscar's treatment has left him unable to walk.

Oscar's mother Kimberley welcomed the findings, saying: "It's really hard to think you're in this situation, you need the medication to get better but that medication is making them poorly at the same time in other ways.

"To think that going forward other families might not have to go through those massive hurdles of their children being unwell as a side effect of medication is really amazing, really great."

But campaigners warned there is still much more to do.

Cliff O'Gorman lost his brother and sister to leukaemia 30 years ago. His charity Children with Cancer UK helped fund the study.

"Children and young people diagnosed with cancer face aggressive treatments that can have a long-term impact on their health and well-being," he said.

"It is crucial that we build on this breakthrough and continue to fund further studies and clinical trials to develop kinder, more effective treatment for young cancer patients in the UK."

The outlook is currently poorer for children who relapse, with fewer than six in 10 surviving longer than five years. For others the highly toxic treatment can affect fertility and cause heart problems in later life.

Oscar is due to complete chemotherapy in October 2018 - when he plans to fully concentrate on pursuing his dream of becoming a professional footballer.