Less cancer drugs could be better

More drugs is not always better when it comes to treating children with leukaemia, according to a joint study involving doctors and 556 child patients from Singapore and Malaysia.

Led by the National University Hospital (NUH), the research team found that certain patients may be suitable for less-intensive chemotherapy, which in turn improves the cure rate and decreases mortality.

The results of the six-year study, conducted between 2003 and 2009 which also involved KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) and two Malaysian medical centres, were shared at a press conference yesterday.

The research allowed experts to sieve out patients who benefited from three drugs instead of the conventional four used in chemotherapy in the first month after diagnosis.

The fourth drug is the "most toxic", and causes the most adverse side effects, such as infection and ulcers, said NUH Associate Professor Allen Yeoh, who was the study's principal investigator.

Prof Yeoh, a senior consultant of the NUH division of Paediatric Haematology-Oncology, said of those on four types of drugs: "Unfortunately, a lot of patients suffer a fairly large number of complications, such as fever and ulcers, requiring them to stay in hospital for up to a month."

In comparison, he said, patients prescribed three types of drugs suffered less side effects, and usually remain in hospital for only a week. Subsequent therapy is mostly given on an outpatient basis.

The patients involved in the study were all under 18 and suffered from Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. It is a form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow and is the most common cancer to afflict children.

It affects three out of every 10 children who are diagnosed with cancer here annually.

Children suffering from this particular cancer here will now be able to undergo the new personalised treatment regime, available at NUH and KKH.

Of all the patients involved in the study, 81 per cent have recovered.

Among the lucky ones is 10-year-old leukaemia survivor Victoria Liew, who was first diagnosed in 2007.

Her mother, Mrs Amy Liew, who is in her 40s and works in the transport industry, said: "It's important for her to be a normal kid and embrace life."

Victoria is a Primary 4 pupil at St Anthony Canossian Primary School in Bedok.

"Victoria even represented her school, in a golf tournament, today," said Mrs Liew.



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