Two Girls, Miles Apart, Die of Neuroblastoma Cancer
Sophie Atay and Layla Grace Marsh did not know each other, but they shared one common bond. They were both two year old girls whose lives were cut short by the pediatric cancer neuroblastoma.
Layla Grace Marsh was from Houston, Texas. Her parents, Ryan and Shanna Marsh, chronicled her progress during her treatments on Twitter @LaylaGrace. She passed away on March 9, 2010. Her parents hope the tweets will raise awareness of the disease and help others who are dealing with childhood cancers.
Sophie Atay was from Birtley, Gateshead in England. She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in February of last year, and lost her battle on March 13, 2010. Music and television celebrity Simon Cowell was instrumental in helping to raise 500,000 pounds for her specialist treatment in New York. The remainder of the funds will be used to help other children who are battling the disease. Sophie’s funeral was to be held today in St Cuthbert RC Church in Chester-le-Street.
Neuroblastoma is the third most common form of cancer in children, behind leukemia and brain tumors. Neuroblastoma develops from the tissues that form the sympathetic nervous system, which controls body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and levels of certain hormones. Most tumors begin in the adrenal gland in the abdomen or next to the spinal cord. It may also start in the chest and spread to the bones, bone marrow, liver, lymph nodes, skin and around the eyes.
The disease is usually diagnosed before the age of five and occurs in approximately 1 out of 100,000 children. The cause is unknown. The first symptoms are usually a fever, malaise, and pain. Depending upon the site and stage of the tumor, it may also cause bone pain or tenderness, difficulty breathing, enlarged abdomen, problems with balance or loss of movement in the lower extremities and tachycardia (rapid heart rate).
Sometimes, the cancer cells can die without any cause, and the tumor can disappear on its own without treatment. This is much more common in very young infants than in older children.
Treatment for the cancer will also depend upon the location, how big the tumor is, and if and where it has spread. Surgery can be performed followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Treatment can be successful if the cancer has not spread, but after metastasis, it is much harder to cure. Children treated for neuroblastoma may also be at risk for future cancer at a different site.
Three recent studies may hold promise for pediatric cancers, such as neuroblastoma.
A team in France found that the interaction of a ligand called Neurotrophine-3 and its dependence receptor TrkC may provide a mechanism for tumor control. (March 2010 Journal of Clinical Investigation) 40% of neuroblastoma tumors produce the NT-3 ligand so that they can grow without triggering death. TrkC may prevent tumor cells from producing NT-3, therefore the presence of TrkC is a factor for a good prognosis.
A study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and published in the March 2010 FASEB Journal found that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and its derivatives may kill neuroblastoma cancer cells.
Another study from the Karolinska Institute with cooperation from researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have found a novel technology to look at different genetic patterns of neuroblastomas. The scientists found that tumors that have a characteristic defect on chromosome 11 are more aggressive and difficult to cure, and children diagnosed with this type are usually older at the onset of the disease. This may lead to significant advances in treatment. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).