A study has showed that a new type of therapy that stimulates the body's immune system has improved survival rates by 20 percent for neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system that is often deadly in children.
The new treatment studied at the Cancer Center at The Children?s Hospital of Philadelphia showed the first major advance in combating this type of cancer in over a decade, according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study showed that the new treatment improved two-year survival rates by 20 percent, compared to standard treatment for an aggressive form of neuroblastoma.
"We expect these findings will change clinical practice, setting a new gold standard of treatment for this often-deadly disease," said John Maris, a co-author of the study and director of the center.
Neuroblastoma, a cancer of the peripheral nervous system, usually appears as a solid tumor in the chest or abdomen. It accounts for seven percent of all childhood cancers, but because it frequently occurs in an aggressive form, it causes 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths, the researchers said.
In the latest study, 226 high-risk patients at multiple cancer centers received either the standard chemotherapy drug isotretinoin or the new immunotherapy -- which delivers three biological agents in combination with isotretinoin.
The immunotherapy included monoclonal antibodies which are described as molecular "guided missiles" engineered to kill cancer cells by targeting a substance appearing on those cells. The treatment also delivered substances to boost immune responses including interleukin-2.
Within two years of follow-up, approximately 54 percent of the neuroblastoma patients receiving standard treatment suffered a disease relapse, which is almost always fatal.
But only 34 percent of patients receiving the experimental immunotherapy regimen had their disease return, resulting in a much higher cure rate, but also had more side effects including pain.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has been using this immunotherapy regimen as part of standard treatment for children with high-risk neuroblastoma for more than a year, since preliminary trial results were reported in June 2009.