Cure rates improve for younger luekaemia patients

ALMOST half of teenagers and young adults with an aggressive type of leukaemia are cured – a six-fold improvement since the 1970s.

Figures revealed yesterday by the Huddersfield-based Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust and Cancer Research UK show the cure rate for 15-24 year-olds diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2006 at 48 per cent – compared with eight per cent in 1975.

Similar improvements are estimated for patients aged in their 50s. But older patients still have poor survival – only 13 per cent of patients aged 60-69 are predicted to be cured, falling to fewer than five per cent aged 70 and over.

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Writing in the British Journal of Haematology, lead author Anjali Shah, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “The good news is that nearly half of young adults with AML are cured of their disease, and that cure rate has increased for patients of all ages in England.

“Our study suggests that the main reason for these improvements is the development of new treatments, combined with good levels of recruitment to UK clinical trials. These key issues have been effective in curing more people of AML.

“But levels of cure of this disease in England remain lower than those observed in other European countries, such as Sweden. The reasons for these differences are unknown.”

Pam Thornes, of the Yorkshire charity set up in 1996 following the death from cancer of 17-year-old Laura Crane from Brighouse, said the improvements were testament to the research funded by the trust and others.

“It’s reassuring to see from the study that cure rates in young people with specific cancers are far greater than they were 30 years ago,” she said.

“Young people with cancer often get overlooked and usually get treated as a child or an adult, which in many cases isn’t tailored to their age-specific needs.”

In the UK, bout 2,500 people are diagnosed with AML each year. The risk increases with age and it is most common in over 65s.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Things are still very difficult for older patients and the cure rate for them is still low. This is why we’re funding more important trials to improve treatments for these groups, to save more lives and to reduce the long-term side effects of treatment.”