October 2017

Two-Year-Old Becomes One of First Kids in Country to Have Genomic Screening to Help Doctors Target Her Cancer

Author: Special to CH2

Victoria Thompson, clutching a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips while she watches the TV show Paw Patrol, is a pint-sized pioneer. She doesn’t know it, but this two-year-old girl is part of an international precision medicine trial through MUSC Children’s Health for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Her mother, Jessica Thompson, said Victoria developed a volleyball-size tumor on her kidney last year. Today, after a series of innovative treatments, Victoria’s tummy is back to normal toddler size. “This child’s a trooper, really strong. You’d hardly even know she’s sick,” Thompson said.

Victoria’s cancer doctor, Julie Kraveka, agrees. “She’s done great.”

That’s great news, considering the high stakes for both Victoria and other children with neuroblastoma, which has a 60 percent survival rate. About 700 children are diagnosed with the condition in the U.S. every year.

Kraveka serves as vice-chairwoman for the Beat Childhood Cancer Consortium precision medicine trial that Victoria is part of at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. “What’s really exciting about the trial is that we’re actually sequencing the tumor, looking at what’s altered and then adding a specific drug for that,” she said.

The hope is that it will not only fight the cancer now, but also reduce the risk of recurrence. Children are the most important thing in your life,” Kraveka said. “Children are our future. So, being part of something where they have a healthy life and lead a full life is really key.”

But it takes more than a good-hearted doctor to beat childhood cancer. It takes research, and Kraveka specializes in that. “We’re trying to develop drugs at MUSC Children’s Health that are more targeted,” she said. “They’re drugs that target the genetic makeup of the tumor, thereby preventing a lot of the side effects that kids get later on.”

Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumor seen in children under the age of five, and it’s the third leading cause of death from cancer in children. “A lot of people have never heard of it,” Kraveka said.

“The cause is unknown.”

Doctors do know that neuroblastoma is a disease of the primitive nervous system that usually shows up in the adrenal gland. Despite its deadly track record, it’s not something a pediatrician would typically suspect in a case like Victoria’s. Her mom remembers taking her to their doctor in Beaufort, South Carolina, for fevers and a swollen stomach. “It got to the point where she was in a lot of pain. If we hadn’t caught it when we did, she probably wouldn’t be here. Follow your instincts,” she advises other parents.

The results of the trial Victoria is enrolled in, called Peds PLAN—Pediatric Precision Laboratory Advanced Neuroblastoma Therapy—look promising, according to Kraveka. “It’s been great to offer that to her, and we’re adding another drug that is experimental to help prevent relapse,” she said. “It’s exciting to be able to offer her something new that gives her a better chance of survival, and we haven’t seen an increase in side effects, which is key.”

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