Cancer breakthrough gives hope to young sufferers

Ross Anderton before treatment. Picture: comp
Ross Anderton before treatment. Picture: comp
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SCIENTISTS have made a breakthrough in understanding the cause of a rare childhood muscle cancer.

The discovery could lead to the development of improved therapies to treat rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) and other types of cancer in the future.

Ross after proton beam therapy in the US. Picture: comp

Ross after proton beam therapy in the US. Picture: comp

Around 60 and 350 new cases of RMS are diagnosed in the UK and Europe/US respectively each year. Most RMS tumours occur in children younger than ten years old.

Ross Anderton, six, from Ormiston, was diagnosed with orbital rhabdomyosarcoma when he was a year old after his mother noticed a lump in his eye.

His mum, Lesley Lauder, recalled the tough time her family experienced when their son was going through chemotherapy.

She said: “The cancer did not respond as well as expected after three intensive cycles of chemo so a course of radiotherapy was on the cards.

“This didn’t sound too bad to us and the ward staff did not make a big deal out of it. Then, we met with the radiotherapy oncologist and learned of the side-effects that traditional radiotherapy has, including increasing the chance of developing a secondary cancer throughout his life.”

Making the decision not to go ahead with radiotherapy, the family travelled to Jacksonville in Florida where Ross had proton beam therapy.

Ms Lauder recalled their time in America as long but “enlightening and interesting”.

Ross is now in remission, but according to his mum, he may have growth issues – but nothing requiring surgery.

A collaborative study led by scientists from Harvard University and involving experts from the University of Aberdeen, the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics has revealed for the first time the key role a protein called Yap plays in triggering RMS.

The findings are published today in Cancer Cell.

Dr Annie Tremblay from Harvard University said: “RMS is a muscle cancer that can arise from any skeletal muscles in the body, although approximately 40 per cent of the cases arise in the head and neck regions.

“The current therapies for RMS, although relatively efficient, are very aggressive and drastically alter the quality of life of the children who survive.

“Indeed, most of the survivors will suffer life-altering consequences such as loss of mobility or vision, growth impairment and developmental problems, or the need for life-long hormone replacement therapies.”

Dr Henning Wackerhage, from the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences, said: “Our identification of the Yap protein’s crucial role in the development of rhabdomyosarcoma is the first step on the road towards understanding how we can target this rare disease.

“Our work will now focus on how the Yap protein works in cancer and how its activity can be controlled.”