Category Archives: Research

New Service Transforms Childhood Cancer Treatment


Professor Gareth Veal. Credit: Newcastle University

Children with cancer in the UK are to benefit nationally from a service which for the first time will allow doctors to personalise their treatment.

The therapeutic drug monitoring service, developed by Newcastle University experts, allows clinicians to obtain vital information about how much chemotherapy individual young patients should receive.

Youngsters diagnosed with cancer, including infants in the first weeks of life, can be particularly hard to treat as it is difficult to know how much chemotherapy to give.

Doctors sometimes have to make tough decisions about the most appropriate dose of a drug, without enough scientific information to help them decide on the best course of action.

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Can New Cancer Drug Safely Boost Radiation Therapy?

Cancer continues to be one of the top causes of death in many countries, and Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments used in the fight against cancer.

About 60% of cancer patients benefit from radiation, which is used either on its own or together with chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy works by puncturing the DNA inside cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells from growing and multiplying, eventually causing them to die.

Doctors can use radiation to destroy cancer tumours completely or to shrink them in preparation for surgery. This depends on the type of tumour, as some cancers are more sensitive to radiation therapy than others.

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Can Dogs Detect Cancer?

Dogs have a very sensitive sense of smell which humans have put to use by training them to sniff out explosives and narcotics.

This remarkable sense of smell can also be useful in the medical world, as dogs are able to sniff out and detect viruses, bacteria, and certain diseases, including cancer in a person’s skin, urine, and sweat.

Like many other diseases, cancers leave specific traces, or odour signatures, in a person’s body and bodily secretions. Cancer cells, or healthy cells affected by cancer, produce and release these odour signatures. Depending on the type of cancer, dogs are able to detect these signatures in a person’s skin, breath, urine,faeces, and sweat, and can, with training, alert people to their presence.

These dogs that undergo training to detect certain diseases are referred to as medical detection dogs – they can detect some substances in very low concentrations, e.g. parts per trillion, which makes their noses sensitive enough to detect cancer markers in a person’s breath, urine, and blood.

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Rare Childhood Cancers

The most common Childhood Cancers about which we normally hear include Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)Brain Tumours, Neuroblastoma, Wilms Tumour, and Lymphoma. These are also the most common Childhood Cancers in South Africa, but they are not the only cancers that children can get.

Compared with adult cancers, childhood cancers are rare and there are a number of very rare types which account for around 20-25% of all childhood cancers. Most behave like other children’s cancers, growing and spreading to other parts of the body.

Unfortunately, while there have been many improvements made in the field of paediatric oncology in the past decade or two, those have mainly been in the more common childhood cancers, and not much has been done for various very rare childhood cancers as they have been treated as “orphan diseases”.

Fortunately this situation has gradually seen change, and various projects dedicated to these rare diseases have been developed in several countries.

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Success With ‘Half-Matched’ Donors Leads Transplant Advances

Until recently, potentially life-saving bone marrow or stem cell transplants for cancer and other diseases were limited to patients who had a perfectly matched donor for the best chance of a good outcome.

The bottleneck was especially daunting for minority ethnic groups, who are poorly represented in donor registries. The odds of an African-American patient finding a perfect donor match, for example, are around 18 percent, compared with about 35 percent for someone from India and 75 percent for a white person.

But of the many advances in this field in the past 10 to 15 years, none has had as dramatic an impact as the recent development of successful haploidentical or “half-matched” transplants, which have vastly expanded the pool of donors.

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Could the Zika Virus Kill Childhood Cancer?

Neuroblastoma is a cancer of nerve cells that reside outside of the brain, and occurs when malignant cancer cells form in the specialised nerve cells of the sympathetic nerves involved in the development of the nervous system and other tissues.

Neuroblastoma most commonly occurs in one of the adrenal glands situated in the tummy or in the chest, neck, abdomen, pelvis or the nerve tissue that runs alongside the spinal cord. The adrenal glands are specialised glands that release hormones that help the body respond to stress and maintain blood pressure.

Neuroblastoma may be present at birth, but generally presents in early childhood, before the age of 5 years. In most cases, by the time it is diagnosed the cancer has usually already spread to areas outside of the original site, often to the lymph nodes, bones, bone marrow, liver, and skin.

It’s the second most common type of childhood cancer and has a disproportionately high mortality rate, compared to other childhood cancers.

Treatment usually involves surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell support, or a combination in high-risk cases. Unfortunately, in some cases, none of the treatments work.

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Do Alternative Therapies Decrease a Cancer Patient’s Survival Chances?

Here at LFCT we post about various methods of fighting cancer, as we believe in putting all relevant information out there for the patient (or the patient’s parents) as we believe that it is up to them to decide the way forward.

We neither recommend nor discourage the use of alternative/complementary treatments, although we DO urge everyone to discuss their possible use BEFORE embarking on any other treatment regimen…

A recent study of 1,290 patients in the US found that Cancer patients who use alternative therapies are be more likely to shun conventional treatments and risk their chances of survival.

People who received such therapies often refused life-saving care such as chemotherapy or surgery and fewer survived five years after starting treatment compared to those on standard care. Experts urged patients not to ditch proven cancer medicines.

Researchers said the use of alternative therapies, which include certain diets, minerals and vitamin infusions, was growing in the US but there was limited research on how effective they are. Their study looked at 258 patients who had used these therapies with at least one standard treatment, compared to 1,032 who only received conventional care.

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The Fight to Beat Childhood Cancer

An incredible amount of people still believe that cancer is an “old person’s” disease, or at least an “adult” disease and are shocked when they find out that this is not so.

This is especially true in Africa, especially in the rural areas where information that we take for granted since the advent of the worldwide web and Google is not available, and old beliefs and cultures rule.

This belief is also true partly because, 99% of the time, cancer IS a malady tied to age. The cells in our bodies sometimes lose their battle against the toxins we’re exposed to, the sedentary lifestyles we lead, the viruses we contract as we go about our adult lives, and our genetic predispositions, and proliferate uncontrollably.

The approximately 1% of remaining cancers occur in children. It’s a particularly cruel reality when infants, toddlers, and teenagers draw the proverbial short straw despite their comparatively unpolluted anatomies.

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New Hope for Fatal Childhood Brain Cancer (DIPG)?

Brain tumours are hard to treat. But even this is a harrowing understatement for some forms of the disease.

Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is one such example. These rare brain tumours almost exclusively affect children, and they’re invariably fatal.

Almost all children with DIPG sadly die within a couple of years of diagnosis,” says Professor Chris Jones from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, a Cancer Research UK-funded expert on the disease.

There aren’t any effective treatments.”

One of the main reasons that the outlook for DIPG is so poor is down to where it grows in the brain. These tumours start in the brainstem, which lies at the base of the brain and hooks up the spinal cord with deeper brain regions. This crucial piece of machinery controls many of the body’s vital processes, such as breathing and our heart beat.

That means surgery – a cornerstone treatment for many cancers – is out of the question. Drugs are also notoriously ineffective for brain tumours, because most are shut out by the protective blood brain barrier.

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Lola Muñoz, the Girl Who Gave Her Final Days to Science

Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) are highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumors found at the base of the brain. They are glial tumors, meaning they arise from the brain’s glial tissue—tissue made up of cells that help support and protect the brain’s neurons.

These tumors are found in an area of the brainstem (the lowest, stem-like part of the brain) called the pons, which controls many of the body’s most vital functions such as breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas account for 10% of all childhood central nervous system tumors.

While DIPGs are usually diagnosed when children are between the ages of 5 and 9, they can occur at any age in childhood. These tumors occur in boys and girls equally and do not generally appear in adults.

Medical advances in the past 40 years have greatly improved the survival rates for children diagnosed with most types of cancer, but these medical advances have done nothing for children with DIPG.

Brain tumors remain the most common cause of cancer-related death in children, and DIPG is the leading cause of death from paediatric brain tumours. A child diagnosed with DIPG today faces the same prognosis as a child diagnosed 40 years ago.

There is still no effective treatment and no chance of survival. Only 10% of children with DIPG survive for 2 years following their diagnosis, and less than 1% survive for 5 years. The median survival time is 9 months from diagnosis.

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