Leukemia, or cancer of the blood, is the most common form of childhood cancer. Treatment depends on the type of leukemia and other factors. Recent breakthroughs in medicine are opening new, improved treatments that are leading to better outcomes for children of all ages with leukemia.
This rapidly developing field consists of helping the body's own immune system attack the cancer cells. The Food and Drug Administration approved Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy (CAR T-cell therapy) in 2017 as immunotherapy-based treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in children who have not responded to standard chemotherapy or whose cancer has relapsed. Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is one of few pediatric cancer centers in the country to offer this treatment.
The immune system normally fights disease and infection, but in cancer patients, specialized immune cells called T-cells lose the ability to recognize and attack cancer cells. With CAR T therapy, a patient’s own T-cells are isolated from the blood. Those cells then are genetically altered – or supercharged – enabling them to home in on cancer cells and destroy them. During this process, specialized receptors called chimeric antigen receptors are put onto patients’ T-cells, thus the name CAR-T cells. When the immune cells are infused back into patients, these receptors allow the cells to recognize and attack tumor cells, thus turning the T-cells into cancer-fighting machines. These supercharged cells also stay alive and circulate in the patient’s body for years.
While chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are essential treatments for the majority of leukemias, high doses can damage a child’s bone marrow, which produces the stem cells necessary to fight infection. That’s where stem cell transplants come in – also referred to as bone marrow transplants.
After chemotherapy or radiation treatments, young blood cells (stem cells) are taken from a healthy donor and administered to the patient by infusion. As these new cells grow, the patient is supported with medicines to prevent reactions and protect from infections. The goal is to give the patient new and healthy bone marrow and eradicate all the leukemia cells.
Ask your child's healthcare provider if there are any treatments being tested – through "clinical trials" – that may work well for your child. The Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a National Cancer Institute-supported clinical trials group, is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. Today, more than 90 percent of children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at Children’s Oncology Group member institutions, including Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is the #1 pediatric cancer program in the St. Louis region, according to U.S. News & World Report. We are the only National Cancer Institute (NCI) funded pediatric cancer center to provide experimental therapy in the State of Missouri. We offer advanced cancer treatments not offered elsewhere in the region. From clinical trials to safer forms of radiation therapy to individualized treatments in a family-centered environment, we have the arsenal your child needs to fight cancer.
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