St. Jude identifies ways to improve treatment of childhood leukemia in Honduras

(MEMPHIS, TENN. August 28, 2003) Investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Hospital Escuela (Tegucigalpa, Honduras) have identified ways to improve treatments and cure rates for Honduran children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Their findings are published in the August 30 issue of The Lancet.

Many children in Honduras receiving the most advanced treatment for ALL, the most common type of childhood cancer, still die because their families must abandon therapy or because the children succumb to infections.

ALL cure rates in some countries with limited resources are less than 35 percent, while the cure rates in developed countries have reached 80 percent.

"This 'survival gap' shows the difference between what is medically possible and what can be practically achieved in a country like Honduras," said Scott Howard, M.D., director of clinical trials in the St. Jude International Outreach Program, and co-author of the study. "The goal of the St. Jude International Outreach Program is to close such survival gaps."

More than 70 percent of the world's children live in countries with limited resources.

The investigators found that the major reason that families abandon children's treatment was the prolonged travel times faced by families in distant parts of Honduras. These families sometimes must travel more than five hours for weekly chemotherapy treatment in the capital city, Tegucigalpa.

"Families face not only the costs of the bus ticket, but also the time spent away from home and work--a major obstacle to those with limited income," said Monika Metzger, M.D., also of St. Jude. Metzger is the lead author of The Lancet report.

Cultural factors also play an important role in discouraging some parents from keeping their children in therapy.

"Some parents may think that initial improvement means their child is cured," Metzger said. "Others are skeptical that cure is even possible, so they abandon further trea

Contact: Bonnie Cameron
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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