Letter: Leukaemia children

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The Leukaemia Research Fund has been greatly saddened to learn of the death of Georgina Horlick. Despite all the pressures on her time, Georgina's mother, Nicola, has given selfless and invaluable support to the fundraising efforts of the Leukaemia Research Fund.

It is unfortunate that reports in your paper and in The Independent on Sunday have contained errors of fact which may unnecessarily alarm the parents of other children with leukaemia. The Independent on Sunday has stated that about 1,200 children a year are diagnosed with leukaemia. Happily the true figure is about 420 cases a year.

More seriously, the impression is given (report, 30 November) that within the last five years bone-marrow transplants have become the treatment of choice for childhood leukaemia. This is not the case. Some two-thirds to three-quarters of all children with acute leukaemia will have an excellent response to chemotherapy. The relatively more toxic and dangerous bone- marrow transplant approach is reserved for children identified as having high-risk leukaemia or for children, like Georgina, who have relapsed. The article further implies that long-term follow up treatment is a new approach, whereas this was introduced about 30 years ago.

There is little or no evidence to support the assertion that every last leukaemia cell must be destroyed for treatment to be successful. This is the subject of ongoing research but there is historical evidence to suggest that cure is not dependent on a strategy of total annihilation of all leukaemia cells.

Although there has been major progress in treatment of childhood leukaemia, there is much work still to be done. Education of the public has a valuable part to play, but it is vital that the information is timely and accurate.


Leukaemia Research Fund

London WC1