Duke Cancer Institute published an article in their Fall 2013 publication, written by Dave Hart, entitled “Cracking the Secrets of a Lethal Pediatric Tumor.” The article describes the advancements being made in the area of pediatric cancer. Richard Plotkin, Vice Chairman of The Max Cure Foundation, does not agree with the overly optimistic views expressed in the article as to the successes of late in the area of pediatric cancer. But that is not the purpose of this blog – to criticize the author’s discussions of these advances. Our intention is to drive awareness and understanding as to the tribulations we fight each day in the Roar for a Cure as The Max Cure Foundation has helped financially support Dr. Becher’s research advancements.
Although the survivorship rate for children with cancer is about 80% (surviving 5 years from the date of diagnosis), with about 20% dying within the five year period, the article does not state by removing one form of childhood leukemia (there are over 16 different forms of childhood cancers, one of which is leukemia), the survival rate is reduced to 65%. Nor does the article address that the children that do survive the five years have a 10 times greater mortality rate due to liver and heart disease and to re-occurrence of the cancers, most of whom exhibit side-effects of varying degrees over their lifetimes. We are now learning that the children who do survive are more prone to premature aging according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Further, the article does not address the lack of sufficient funding by the government (NIH AND NCI) for research in the area of drugs for pediatric cancers (less than 4 cents of every dollar of government funding for cancer research goes towards childhood cancer drugs) and the equally insufficient funding by private sources such as the American Cancer Society (3 cents of every dollar invested for research) for such research.
The cancer specifically referenced in Hart’s article is called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, more commonly known as DIPG, and has a much different outcome than that described in the article for pediatric cancer generally. DIPG is a tumor located in the pons (middle) of the brain stem. The brain stem is the bottom most portion of the brain, connecting the cerebrum with the spinal cord. The majority of brain stem tumors occur in the pons (middle brain stem), are diffusely infiltrating (they grow amidst the nerves), and therefore are not able to be surgically removed. Glioma is a general name for any tumor that arises from the supportive tissue called glia, which help keep the neurons (“thinking cells”) in place and functioning well. The brain stem contains all of the “wires” converging from the brain to the spinal cord as well as important structures involved in eye movements, face and throat muscle control and sensation.
DIPG is usually diagnosed in children ranging from toddlers to pre-teens and are difficult to treat because the tumors grow around the normal cells in the brain. The unfortunate truth is that DIPG is generally (99.9%) fatal to the 200 to 300 children each year in this country who are diagnosed with this rare form of brain cancer. After reading the article Richard stated:
“When talking to my friends Greg and Jonathan, who lost their children to DIPG, and to my friend Tom, whose grandchild passed away from this form of brain cancer, or to my new friend, Joy, whose nephew is fighting this disease, I dare not “trumpet” the alleged successes of pediatric cancer research as an indication that scientists and industry are doing great things and making great advances in an effort to find cures for childhood cancers generally. I do, however, every chance I get, highlight the efforts of Oren Becher, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, for his tireless efforts to not only find a cure for DIPG, but also for his willingness to spend countless hours with parents whose children are diagnosed with the disease.”
The Max Cure Foundation is proud of the fact that it has supported the research of Dr. Becher over the last three years by donating over those years the aggregate sum of $42,000. It hopes to continue to be able to assist Dr. Becher as he leads the charge in this country to find a cure to what is considered to be, for all intents and purposes, an incurable form of cancer striking the most innocent among us, our children.
You can help support our Roar for a Cure by donating to The Max Cure Foundation today! If you want to donate to Dr. Becher’s efforts to find a cure for DIPG, indicate that in your submission to the Foundation. Just follow this link to make a donation online or you can mail a check to:
The Max Cure Foundation
1350 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019