(Washington, DC) -- The latest breakthrough in genetic research on cancer could benefit its littlest victims.
Researchers have pinpointed a genetic defect that dooms many kids with leukemia to a potentially deadly relapse.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee found that three quarters of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who have this particular genetic abnormality will suffer a relapse.
That's three times the normal rate.
And for those who do get the disease again, 30-percent will die before five years are up.
The gene in question plays an important role in the production of white blood cells, which undergo malignant changes with leukemia.
Isolating abnormal versions of the gene will help doctors figure out which patients should be treated more aggressively.
Since chemotherapy is so toxic, doctors are reluctant to flood children's growing bodies with strong doses.
Knowing a child faces an almost certain relapse could change a doctor's assessment of chemotherapy's risks.
The findings are published in "The New England Journal of Medicine."
(Copyright 2009 by Newsroom Solutions)