Study identifies kids with cancer at risk of lethal infections

New research has identified the child cancer patients at greatest risk of developing life-threatening infections, in a crucial step towards the development of an early diagnostic test.

There is currently no clinical test to identify which children are likely to develop severe infections during febrile neutropenia (FN) — a condition common in chemotherapy patients — from those who are at low risk.

This landmark study, led by WEHI in Melbourne, could prevent thousands of low-risk cancer patients worldwide from undergoing unnecessary treatment and potentially disrupting their chemotherapy.

At a glance

  • Study identifies first immune profiles in children with cancer that could identify those at risk of serious infection during febrile neutropenia (FN). There was previously no way of determining the patients who will have a benign or severe FN infection.
  • All child cancer patients with FN are currently treated as high-risk and receive intravenous antibiotics, despite less than a quarter of cases requiring it.
  • Milestone discovery could lead to a diagnostic test to identify children at risk of severe FN infections, preventing thousands of patients worldwide from receiving unnecessary and potentially disruptive medical treatment.

Children who are given chemotherapy have weakened immune systems, putting them at an elevated risk of contracting potentially life-threatening infections.

Any cancer patient that currently presents to hospital with FN is immediately given intravenous antibiotics to prevent possible infectious complications. While less than a quarter of FN cases will become potentially life-threatening, there is currently no way to determine which patients will fall into this category.

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