Survival rate for young adult cancer patients increasing

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Adolescents and young adults diagnosed with blood-related cancers have better long-term survival rates than those who were diagnosed during the 1980s.

A study in the journal Cancer, published by the American Cancer Society, shows that significant advances have been made in the treatment of 15- to 24 year-olds with leukemias and lymphomas; however, survival rates in this age group are still lower than those seen in younger children.

Few studies have looked at trends in the long-term survival of adolescents and young adults with blood-related cancers, which include Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, and chronic myelocytic leukemia.

To compare survival rates of young patients diagnosed during recent years with those diagnosed two decades ago, researchers led by Dianne Pulte of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, a population-based cancer registry in the United States.

When the investigators compared SEER data from 1981-1985 with data from 2001-2005, they found that survival improved significantly in each of five blood-related malignancies.

The 10-year survival rates increased from 80.4 percent to 93.4 percent among adolescents and young adults with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; from 55.6 percent to 76.2 percent for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; from 30.5 percent to 52.1 percent for acute lymphoblastic leukemia; from 15.2 percent to 45.1 percent for acute myeloblastic leukemia; and from 0 percent to 74.5 percent for chronic myelocytic leukemia.

The study also showed that survival improved steadily during the two decades for the lymphomas and chronic myelocytic leukemia, but improvements in survival for the acute leukemias were limited to the early years and stable after the late 1990s.

Also, with the exception of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, survival in adolescents and young adults still lags behind survival in children and, in the case of acute myeloblastic leukemia, even behind survival in older adults.

According to the authors, the persistent lower survival rates for acute leukemias in adolescents and young adults compared with children remain a major challenge.

“More research into how to treat these diseases and how to make sure that all patients have access to the best treatment is needed,” Pulte said.

Livestock, pet rabies risk

More rabid skunks have been reported in El Paso County, alerting public health officials to the potential risk to pets and livestock.

The El Paso County Department of Public Health and Environment recorded three rabid animals during August — bringing the total to six this year.

“Pets and livestock owners need to take precautions and vaccinate their animals against rabies,” said Kandi Buckland, public health director. “Parents should also remind their children to avoid petting, feeding or touching wildlife as well.”

Before this summer, rabid skunks hadn’t been reported in El Paso County since 1970, she said.

The skunks were found near the Elbert County line in Peyton, east of highway 83; near County Line Road, near Douglas County; near Powers, east of Highway 83; near Eastonville, along Latigo Boulevard; and near Black Forest.

Undervaccinated pets are at significant risk for acquiring rabies from skunks. Statewide information shows that 26 rabid skunks have been reported, an increase from the 18 reported during 2008.

Rabies is a viral disease in mammals — including people. Rabies infects the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, causing brain swelling and damage, and ultimately, death.

The virus is spread primarily through the bite of rabid animals, resulting in the spread of the disease through their infected saliva. The disease also can be spread when saliva from an infected animal gets into open wounds, cuts or enters through membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.

No cure exists for rabies, once symptoms appear.

Preventive medication is available for people known or suspected to have been bitten by a rabid animal. It is critically important for people bitten or scratched by a wild animal or an unfamiliar animal to contact their health care provider.

The Health Department recommends these prevention steps:

Don’t feed wild animals or allow pets around them. Be sure to teach children to stay away from wild mammals.

Contact a veterinarian if pets are bitten or scratched by a wild animal, such as skunks, bats, foxes or raccoons.

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to rabies, contact a doctor immediately.

Discuss rabies vaccination of your livestock with your veterinarian. Vaccination should be considered for horses and other equines, breeding livestock, dairy cattle or other high-value livestock.

If you observe a wild mammal acting strangely, especially a skunk, or if you find a dead skunk, stay away from it. Strange behavior for a skunk would include being out during daytime hours.

If you must remove a dead skunk on your property, wear rubber gloves or lift the carcass with a shovel or other tool, and double-bag it for the trash.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.