According to an article recently published in the Annals of Oncology, the average life expectancy for individuals diagnosed with pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) continues to increase.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow and lymph system. The bone marrow produces early blood-forming cells called stem cells. These grow and mature into the three blood cell types: white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissue; and platelets, which help blood to clot.
ALL is characterized by uncontrolled production of immature lymphocytes (white blood cells), which exist in two forms: B and T cells. These immature lymphocytes never develop enough to perform their specific function of fighting infection. In addition, these rapidly dividing cells crowd out and suppress the formation of other important blood cells (such as red blood cells, platelets, and other white blood cells).
Researchers from Italy recently evaluated data related to life expectancy among individuals who had been diagnosed as children with ALL. The study included 304 patients diagnosed between 1979 and 1991. Data from these patients was evaluated in 2004. Patients diagnosed at a later date had increased life expectancy:
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- For patients diagnosed between March 1979–July 1982, 5-year survival was 58.6%.
- For patients diagnosed between March 1987–February 1991, 5-year survival was 79.1%.
- The average life expectancy for patients diagnosed between March 1979–July 1982 was 46.1 years of age for males and 42.6 years for females.
- The average life expectancy for patients diagnosed between March 1987–February 1991 was 58.3 years for males and 69.1 years for females.
The researchers concluded that the average life expectancy, as well as overall survival at 5 years, continues to increase over time for children diagnosed with ALL. As long-term data mature for pediatric patients diagnosed recently with ALL, researchers can continue to monitor possible increases in survival for this disease.
Reference: Viscomi S, Pastore G, Dama E, et al. Life expectancy as an indicator of outcome in follow-up of population-based cancer registries: the example of childhood leukemia. Annals of Oncology. 2006; 17:167-171.
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