About 90 per cent of cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in children are being cured, thanks to bone marrow transplants and more effective chemotherapy treatments.This positive news was given recently by the head of the paediatric haematology unit at the Materno Infantil hospital, Ángeles Palomo, at a demonstration held on the main steps outside the hospital to mark International Childhood Cancer Day.
Last year 76 new cases of tumours were diagnosed in children at the hospital (22 acute leukemias and 54 solid tumours), in patients from Malaga, other provinces in Andalucía and Melilla.
The demonstration, which was led by the director of the provincial board of the Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC), Pedro González, was organised by the associations and foundations which form the 'Agrupación Unidos contra el Cáncer' platform.
A statement was read out, calling for more support for research and public health facilities, and campaigns to promote a healthy lifestyle. Those attending held up cardboard 'smiles' as a symbol of hope and optimism. “This is the seventh consecutive year that this event has taken place,” said Ana Isabel González, the provincial Health delegate, who was accompanied by the manager of the Carlos Haya regional hospital, Emiliano Nuevo, and members of his team.
Dr Palomo spoke about the advances which have been made in curing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common type in children with an annual rate of four cases in every 100,000 children. Leukemias are the most common neoplasms in childhood, followed by tumours of the central nervous system.
Bone marrow transplants are effective in beating leukemia. In 2017, about a dozen of these were carried out on children under the age of 15 at the Materno hospital. Of those, seven were autologous (the cells used were from the same patient) and five were allogeneic (the cells came from a donor).
Worldwide, the survival rate of children with cancer is about 80 per cent, said the head of the paediatric oncology unit at the Materno, Ana Benito. The great challenge for doctors is the number of paediatric patients who don't respond to treatments or who relapse. In these cases, hope lies in immunotherapy, a method which combats the cancer, has fewer side effects and works in such a way that once the initial neoplasia is cured, there is no second tumour. “In the future, 80 per cent of child cancers will be treated by immunotherapy,” explained Dr Palomo.