Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer of the muscle tissue that affects nearly 350 American children annually. Now, new findings presented at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting suggest that six months of maintenance chemotherapy can extend the lives of children at high risk for cancer recurrence, reports ASCO.

While 80 percent of children with rhabdomyosarcoma can be cured with modern treatment, only 20 to 30 percent of those who have metastasis at diagnosis or a recurrence after initial treatment can be cured.

For the study, scientists from the European Pediatric Soft Tissue Sarcoma Study Group (EpSSG) enrolled patients 6 months to 21 years old who had a high risk of rhabdomyosarcoma recurrence.

Once standard initial treatment was completed, 371 participants were randomly asked to halt their treatment or receive six months of maintenance therapy. The treatment included low doses of two chemotherapy medicines (intravenous vinorelbine and oral cyclophosphamide).

Patients who received maintenance chemotherapy after initial treatment experienced a five-year overall survival rate increase (73.7 to 86.5 percent). Compared with the standard treatment group, those in the maintenance group were also less likely to have tumor recurrence or death from any cause (68.8 percent versus 77.6 percent).

“By using existing medicines in new ways, we are establishing a new standard of care, and, most importantly, we’re helping children and young adults with this rare cancer live longer, with less risk of their cancer returning,” said lead study author Gianni Bisogno, MD, PHD, a professor at the University Hospital of Padua in Italy and chair of the EpSSG.

In Europe, these findings have led to adjustments in the standard of care. Because the standard of care is slightly different in the United States, scientists noted that more research is needed to understand how this therapy could be integrated into existing American treatment protocols.

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