Health Watch -- Recurring Childhood Tumors

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Will the cancer come back? Now doctors have a way of finding out for one kind of childhood tumor.

Some tumors don't return after surgery. Others return and continue to grow. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found a way to identify whether the most common childhood brain tumor will come back.

The most common kind of childhood brain tumor is a pilocytic astrocytoma. This kind of tumor accounts for about 40 percent of all childhood brain tumors, affecting more than a thousand children every year in the United States. It's usually not deadly, but it can cause mobility, speech and coordination problems.

Now UT Southwestern researchers have found that certain types of these tumors are predisposed to recur, and it may be possible to determine which ones will return after treatment. The tumors most likely to recur have higher amounts of a certain antigen in the cancer cells. Doctors can test for this antigen by looking for a specific antibody. Researchers knew that this antibody was a good test for adult tumors, but the link hadn't been verified in children.

Dr. Daniel Bowers, a UT Southwestern pediatric cancer expert, says that this test helps him know which patients to track more carefully, so he can detect any cancer relapse as soon as possible.

Researchers now hope to find which genes are at work in the tumors likely to recur. One day, it may be possible to use drugs to target these genes to prevent or treat tumors.