Cancer is a deadly disease—there is no denying it, but there is some controversy where conventional cancer treatments are involved, many of them suspected of being more harmful than the cancer itself. A new study from Dana Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center found that children with a certain type of brain tumor who were treated with radiation had a lower survival rate than those who weren’t, offering additional evidence that some of these treatments could do more harm than good.
According to a press release from Dana-Farber, the research was the first large-scale cohort study of it’s kind, looking at the long-term survival rate of children treated for low-grade gliomas, the most common type of pediatric brain tumor.
The researchers found that though overall almost 90 percent of the children were alive 20 years later, only 70 percent of those who had received radiation treatment were alive.
“We found for the first time that once you survive your childhood with a low-grade glioma, you are not likely to die of that tumor as an adult,” said lead researcher Peter Manley, MD, of the Brain Tumor Center at Boston Children’s. “This is incredibly encouraging for patients and families. However, we also found some things that we are currently doing to treat low-grade gliomas, such as radiation, are increasing the rate of death later, so that as an adult you won’t die of the tumor, but you may die from the treatment.”
Low-grade gliomas are non-cancerous and usually non-aggressive. About 30 percent of pediatric brain tumors are low-grade gliomas. Normally, they are treated with surgery and chemotherapy. Using radiation to treat these tumors in children has become less common because of the potential risks.
Doctors are reluctant to use radiation on pediatric brains because of the potential damage, including risks to the endocrine system and cognitive development. Some hospitals have stopped using radiation as an option for low-grade gliomas altogether—exactly what the researchers on this latest study are recommending.
“We strongly recommend treatments that are less likely to cause long-term effects and second cancers,” Manley said. “According to our analysis, radiation was the most common factor linked to differences in mortality among long-term survivors. There are multiple options available today for treating children with these tumors. We should exhaust all those before considering the use of radiation.”