Pediatric cancer cure rates improving, more research to be done locally

Fighting childhood cancer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Kellie Andrew took her daughter Brinn to the doctor for a fever nearly a year ago. It was then that they’re lives would be turned upside down.

Brinn’s physician felt something in her stomach and ordered tests to be done.

“An hour later we got a phone call at Levine’s and they were waiting for us. We needed to get there,” Kellie Andrew said.

Levine Children’s Hospital confirmed Kellie’s worst fears, Brinn had stage 3 neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a cancer that attacks the adrenal glands.

Since her diagnosis, Brinn has been through six cycles of chemo, a complicated surgery to remove several organs, stem-cell-therapy, and now immunotherapy. At two-and-a-half years old she is cancer free, but still has about six months of treatment ahead of her.

Nearing the end of her treatment, Kellie wanted to know the statistics of her daughter’s survival.

“She has an 85% chance of being cured and staying cured,” Andrew said. ““Those are pretty good odds, but somebody makes up that 15%, somebody makes it up.”

Brinn’s doctor and Director of Pediatric Oncology at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital Dr. Javier Oesterheld says survival rates have improved.

“Twenty to thirty years ago if you got a childhood cancer diagnosis, unfortunately about half of them would die from the disease. Whereas now our overall cure rates are about 85 percent,” Dr. Oesterheld said.

Levine Children’s Hospital is one of 230 hospitals in the country that make up the Children’s Oncology Group. The Children’s Oncology Group performs clinical trials to search for a pediatric cancer cure. Dr. Oesterheld says advances have been made in survival rates due to some of their findings.

“About a third of our patients have Leukemia, and Leukemia cure rates have skyrocketed within the last 10 to 12 years,” Dr. Oesterheld said.

He says research in brain tumors lags some, partially due to the dangerous nature of testing brain tumor tissues.

“For brain tumors to improve we have to get better at our surgical techniques unfortunately, because the brain’s a closed system so once you start sticking needles in there, that’s very important real estate,” Dr. Oesterheld said.

To make advances in finding a cure for brain cancers, Dr. Oesterheld says more patients will receive biopsies.

“Doing a biopsy on patients who maybe didn’t get those before, so we can actually tailor therapy toward them directly, which is exciting. Oesterheld said.

Levine Children’s Hospital has been a part of clinical trials for more than a decade. Dr. Oesterheld says they are getting closer, but more research and resources are needed to improve survival rates even further.

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