Immune therapy could change the way doctors treat pediatric cancer

For children who have cancer, chemotherapy treatments can have a lasting impact on their health throughout their lives. But the emerging field of immunotherapy could offer better health outcomes for children in the fight against cancer.

Take, for example, Hodgkin's lymphoma, a common childhood cancer that responds well to chemotherapy. Traditional treatments are long and toxic for children and adolescents. But according to Promise & Progress, the magazine of the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Hodgkin's lymphoma can also be treated using immunotherapy, with response rates approaching 90 percent for certain treatments.

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Immunotherapy redirects patients' highly individual immune systems to target, detect, and destroy cancer cells. It is one of the most promising avenues of cancer research today, say researchers at the recently launched Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg–Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

According to Promise & Progress, two Johns Hopkins pediatric oncologists, Brian Ladle and Christopher Gamper, say there is emerging evidence that immune system therapies may offer new hope for pediatric patients with cancers.

The magazine adds:

Ladle is excited about this less toxic approach to destroying cancers. "It's a privilege to be able to cure kids of cancer, but right now, what we have to put them through to get them there is unacceptable," he says. "We have to do better for them."

While he doesn't think immune therapy will completely replace the need for surgery and chemotherapy, he believes it has great potential to reduce the amount and duration of treatment. More importantly, since immune cells can travel anywhere throughout the body—inside bones and to organs and tissues—they have a unique ability to find and destroy lingering cancer cells that often result in the recurrence and spread of cancers.

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