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Simple blood test could improve treatment for childhood cancer

A simple blood test could pinpoint children who are unlikely to respond to treatment for a particularly aggressive form of childhood cancer, says research led by the University of Leeds.

The researchers hope the test could help identify up to 20% of children with ‘ultra high-risk’ forms of the disease neuroblastoma, whose cancer tends to stop responding to existing treatment and rarely survive for longer than two years. The test would allow them to be offered other, experimental treatments.

About 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma in the UK each year, usually in children aged five or under. Despite the numbers of children surviving neuroblastoma rising from about 40% in the 1980s to 60% today, the majority have a high-risk form of the disease which is still very hard to treat.

Study leader Professor Sue Burchill, from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “The blood test we are developing can help identify children with the most aggressive form of the disease early on, so they can be offered other experimental treatments. This not only gives them the best chance of living longer, but will help speed up the development of much needed new treatments for this group of children.”

Dr Guy Blanchard, a medical trustee at The Neuroblastoma Society, which funded the research along with Cancer Research UK, said: “This new research shows that simple blood biomarkers can help identify at diagnosis a group of children with stage four neuroblastoma for whom new kinds of treatment are urgently needed.

“Because this study is a collaboration in several European countries, the test has a better chance of being adopted more quickly and more widely.”

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical research, said: “Being able to spot in advance which children have more aggressive forms of neuroblastoma will help us develop treatments faster and get these children onto clinical trials sooner. Cancer Research UK is funding trials into a number of promising new treatments which we hope will give more options for children with this devastating disease.”

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Further information

Professor Sue Burchill is available for interview, please contact University press officer, Ben Jones on b.p.jones@leeds.ac.uk or 0113 3438059

To contact the Cancer Research UK press office, call Alan Worsley on 020 3469 8252

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