Soft-tissue sarcomas are cancers that begin in the muscles, tendons, blood vessels, and tissue near joints. They can strike at any age, but are most common in children under ten.
As National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month gets underway, doctors are optimistic about a new therapy, developed to wipe out cancer, while protecting kids from life-long side-effects.
Bridget Whiston has spent most of her days over the past year a hospital. Her mother Linda said, “her stomach started blowing back up. It was hard. You knew there was something not right.”
Doctors diagnosed Bridget with rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common soft-tissue cancer in kids. It started near her liver.
Stephanie Perkins, MD, a radiation oncologist at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, explained, “it’s a challenge because the tumor is right next to her heart. It’s also a challenge because this area moves as we breathe.”
Chemotherapy took the toddler’s hair, but also wiped out most of the tumor. For the remaining cancer cells, doctors used a new radiation system.
“If she takes in a deep breath and the tumor goes outside of the radiation field, the machine stops until the tumor returns back into the target,” Dr. Perkins said, explaining that this protects the healthy cells.
Bridget’s father Jason , said, “anything that minimizes side effects, or an area of treatment that doesn’t need treatment, is huge.”
Doctors say there is every sign that, for Bridget, the precisely placed dose is working. “There’s no sign of the tumor, so that’s wonderful,” said Linda.
The Whistons hope to leave hospitals behind for good, with no lasting signs of Bridget’s battle with childhood cancer.
Dr. Perkins said before the MRIdian Radiation System, doctors would treat the sarcoma by plotting a radiation course with traditional x-ray machines. In addition, x-ray and CT scans also expose patients to additional radiation, which doctors are trying to avoid.
Because of major advances in recent decades, more than 80-percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more. But it’s still a tough battle.