Nearly half of young sufferers beat aggressive leukaemia

ALMOST half of teenagers and young adults suffering from an aggressive form of leukaemia are now surviving the disease, research shows.

Experts said the rising numbers of patients being cured of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) was down to improvements in treatment and care.

The research, published in the British Journal of Haematology, estimated that the “cure rate” for patients aged 15 to 24 diagnosed in 2006 stood at 48 per cent.

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This is six times the rate seen in those diagnosed in 1975, when those cured stood at just 8 per cent.

The researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that similar improvements had been seen in older patients – those into their 50s.

However, the study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK and the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust, found that survival among more elderly patients remained poor.

Only 13 per cent of patients diagnosed in 2006 who were aged 60 to 69 were predicted to be cured. This dropped to less than 5 per cent of those aged 70 and over.

For the latest investigation, a cure was defined as the proportion of a group of cancer survivors for whom life expectancy was similar to that of the general population, given their age and sex.

However, patients who are “cured” of AML may still have long-term side-effects, such as experiencing an impact on 
their fertility.

The researchers said the brighter outlook for young people was due to these patients tending to have types of AML that were easier to treat with chemotherapy.

Younger people can also generally be given more intense treatment to help kill leukaemia, which affects the white blood cells and bone marrow.

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Lead researcher Dr Shah said it was “good news” that cure rates had increased for patients of all ages.

“Our study suggests that the main reason for these improvements is the development of new treatments, combined with good levels of recruitment 
to UK clinical trials,” the researcher said.

“These key issues have been effective in curing more people of AML.”

However, Dr Shah said that cure rates still remained lower than in some other European counties, such as Sweden, although the reasons for this were unknown.

About 2,500 people are diagnosed with AML each year in the UK.

In total, about 7,700 cases of all types of leukaemia are diagnosed each year, including almost 600 in Scotland.

The risk of developing the disease increases with age and it is most common in people 
over 65.