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Phoenix Children’s Hospital has a potential new hope in childhood cancer treatment

Photo credit Phoenix Children's Hospital

PHOENIX — A new approach could help doctors select successful treatments for children as they fight cancer.

The approach is called precision medicine. As doctors learn the genetic makeup of a patient through testing, they can find out which drugs a child can tolerate as they battle cancer. The goal is to give each patient their own, unique treatment plan.

“We will get information that tells us that patients will have more side effects from a certain class of medication than the average patient does,” said Dr. Stacy Nicholson, chief physician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Nicholson said they have started implementing precision medicine at Phoenix Children’s, but it is still in its infancy. The goal is to have genetic testing available for all Phoenix Children’s cancer patients in the future, and it may have a far-reaching impact in treating other diseases.

“This will be applicable not just in cancer, but in mental health and in neurology and in heart disease and on down the list,” Nicholson said.

For children who go through chemotherapy, there can be both short and long-term side effects. Some childhood cancer survivors may deal with infertility and hormonal issues later in life. It can also impact the immune system.

“Our hope is that new treatments will have less long term side effects and less things for the survivors of childhood cancer to deal with as they go through their adult life, and that more children will survive,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said about 80 percent of children do survive childhood cancer, but he wants to see that number go even higher. He is hopeful it could go up to 90 or 95 percent with new treatments through precision medicine.

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