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Chemo More Dangerous Than Thought for Kids

Therapy causes genetic damage in leukemia survivors, study finds

THURSDAY, July 1, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Children with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) who suffer genetic damage caused by chemotherapy may face an increased risk of further cancers and other diseases later in life.

That bad news comes from a University of Vermont Medical School study published in the July 1 issue of Cancer Research.

The study found 45 children who received chemotherapy and survived their disease had a 200-fold increase in the frequency of somatic mutations in their DNA. These genetic changes remain embedded in the children's DNA.

"The therapies used to assist these children overcome ALL have the potential to cause genetic damage to many different cell populations in their rapidly growing bodies," Dr. Barry A. Finette, an associate professor of pediatrics, said in a prepared statement.

"Because they have larger numbers of replicating cell populations during their growth and development stages than adults have, they are more susceptible than adults to the effects of the chemotherapies' genotoxicity," Finette said.

ALL is the most common malignant cancer in children. Since the 1960s, the five-year survival rate in the United States for children with ALL has increased to nearly 80 percent, thanks to development of national standardized chemotherapy treatment guidelines.

"Because of the effectiveness of the treatment employed today, we are able to give many more children a chance for a long life without cancer," Finette said.

"Our studies are aimed at enabling us to better understand further challenges that we may face in keeping these patients health as they get 10, 15, or more years out from overcoming ALL," he said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about childhood leukemia.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, July 1, 2004
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