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The significant advances made in cancer treatment are allowing many children with cancer to survive well into adulthood. However, some treatments that save lives can also result in short- and long-term side effects.
For 3-year-old Kaiden Brennfoerder of Plano, Texas, cancer struck without warning. His parents found him in the throes of a grand mal seizure on a Thursday morning. Just four days later, doctors removed a golf ball-size cancerous tumor from his brain.
"His doctor didn't want to do chemotherapy and radiation at the same time because he was so little," said Amy Brennfoerder, Kaiden's mother.
Kaiden had four months of chemotherapy before doctors were ready to begin radiation treatments. However, that did not sit well with Kaiden's parents; they were afraid of the side effects of radiation therapy on children.
When a friend in Oklahoma who works with children undergoing cancer treatment told Amy about proton therapy, the Brennfoerders began learning as much as they could about the radiation alternative. Ultimately, with the support of their oncologist, the family decided on proton therapy for Kaiden.
"Our oncologist said it was just as effective as (traditional radiation), with the potential of having less severe side effects later in his life," Amy said.
For all its benefits, X-ray radiation therapy not only damages cancerous cells, but it also can damage healthy tissue. Of particular concern is the damage to critical organs near the site of the tumor.
Like standard X-ray radiation therapy, proton therapy kills cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing. Unlike X-ray radiation, however, protons deposit most of their energy directly in the cancer tumor, which means children can receive higher, more effective doses with less damage to healthy tissues.
Studies have shown proton therapy to be effective in treating various types of cancer in children and adults, including brain, head and neck, prostate, central nervous system and lung cancer, as well as tumors at the base of the skull and along the spinal cord.
Although proton therapy has been successfully used to treat cancers for decades, only a handful of centers in the U.S. offer the therapy. In fact, there are nine in all, including a new center that just opened in suburban Chicago.
Throughout six weeks, Kaiden received 30 proton therapy treatments at the Procure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City. Although the family needed to temporarily relocate to receive the treatment, Amy says the trip was well worth it, and Kaiden did extremely well.
A little more than six months to the day of his life-altering seizure, Kaiden completed his proton treatments without side effects, except for a tiny triangle-shaped bald spot where the proton beam entered his head.
"He did fantastic," Amy says. "He kept his energy level. He was just a happy, normal little kid. He tolerated the treatment very well.”
New Research: ‘Cocktail’ treatment for triple negative breast cancer
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have tested a cocktail of three drugs that holds promise for treating so-called triple negative breast cancers. According to the scientists, each of the three drugs used alone may have some effect on killing tumor cells, but combining them tips the scale in favor of killing more cells. They are discussing potential clinical trials of the combo therapy, which they hope to start in the next year.
Did You Know?
According to researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center, children living in apartments have 45 percent higher levels of cotinine (found in tobacco) than those living in detached houses.
Health Tip: Wear sunscreen all year round
Remember to wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays from the sun, even if it is not summer. On sunny days, UV rays can reflect off water, cement, sand and snow, and they are especially strong during mid-day.
Number to Know
50: According to EatRight.org, 50 percent of registered dietitians hold advanced degrees.
Children’s Health: Study tests low-sugar cereals
A new study published in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics measured what 91 children at a summer day camp ate when served either high-sugar or low-sugar cereals.
All of the children were given their choice of either three high-sugar or three low-sugar cereals, as well as milk, orange juice, bananas, strawberries and sugar packets. Children served themselves and answered a questionnaire after breakfast.
Children in both groups said they “liked” or “loved” the cereal they ate. But children in the high-sugar group ate larger portions of cereal, consuming almost twice as much refined sugar (24.4 grams) as children in the low-sugar group (12.5 grams), despite the fact that children who ate low-sugar cereals added significantly more table sugar to their bowls. Children who ate low-sugar cereal consumed similar amounts of milk and total calories and were more likely to put fresh fruit on their cereal.
-- American Academy of Pediatrics
Senior Health: Cataract surgery reduces car crashes
Cataract surgery not only improves vision and quality of life for older people, but apparently can also help reduce the number of car crashes.
At the Scientific Program of the 2010 American Academy of Ophthalmology–Middle East-Africa Council of Ophthalmology Joint Meeting, Dr. Jonathon Ng presented a study on accident rates for Western Australian residents before and after cataract surgery on the first eye.
"We found cataract surgery reduced the frequency of all crashes by 12.6 percent after accounting for other potential confounders," Dr. Ng said. "And the cost savings from this reduction amounted to AUD $4.3 million. Each operation saved about $150 in crash costs.”
In Australia and other countries, people often have to wait weeks or months to receive surgery after cataract is diagnosed. This study argues that this delay significantly impacts not only patients' quality of life, but public safety and health care and property costs as well.
-- American Academy of Ophthalmology
GateHouse News Service