Little Known Cancer Targets Young Children

00:37' 27-06-2018
Every year, about 40 Australian children between the ages of 0-5 years are afflicted with an almost unknown cancer of the nervous system. It is very aggressive, and accounts for a disproportionate number of cancer deaths among children.

    Photo: honey.nine.com.au

    Neuroblastoma is a solid tumour arising from particular nerve cells which run in a chain-like fashion up the child’s abdomen and chest and into the skull, following the line of the spinal cord. It is not known why this cancer occurs, and there are no clear environmental links or genetic cause.

    Neuroblastoma may be difficult to diagnose as symptoms often do not appear until the tumour has reached a certain size, and symptoms may be similar to other more common non-serious childhood diseases. Most GPs will never see it in their career.

    Ryder Grace, a 4 year old Victorian, is one boy unfortunate enough to suffer from this cancer. A few months after his 3rd birthday, his parents noticed Ryder had a limp and a low-grade fever. Over a stressful period of more than 5 weeks they took him to the GP eight times, then to the Royal Children's Hospital, where it was confirmed that Ryder had stage 4 high risk Neuroblastoma.

    After seven cycles of chemotherapy in 6 months, Ryder responded well, but his battle is far from over. He risks permanent side effects, including possible future cancers, hearing loss and infertility. There is also more to come, as Ryder will need radiation and immunotherapy treatment for anywhere between 12 and 18 months.

    Worse still, he has a 50% chance of relapsing, so his parents live in fear of every sore limb, every fever, every suspicious symptom, and are terrified of what they might hear with each new scan. Sadly, children who relapse with neuroblastoma have between a 0-10% long term survival rate.

    Ryder's parents hope to access a trial at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, to test a vaccine given over 12 months that aims to help the body recognise and fight potential developments of more cancer. Ryder is eligible for the trial, and will be accepted if he has clear scans after immunotherapy.

    Costs for international patients to attend MSKCC begin at US$160,000. Including travel costs, the family will need to raise about $300,000 to access this treatment.

    The parents have set up a Facebook page, Our Little Superhero, to detail Ryder's progress, spread news about this little known cancer, and call for donations. Fundraising events which take place from time to time are listed on their page.

    A registered Australian charity to drum up support for neuroblastoma sufferers can also be found at www.neuroblastoma.org.au. 

    Span Hanna

     

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Keywords: australian childrencancer deathsneuroblastoma

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