Stories about: Solid Tumors Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s

How precision medicine turned Jesus’ unique tumor into an operable one

Jesus stands on a playground jungle gym in August 2017, after a cancerous tumor was removed surgicallyOn a hot, August day in a Boston park, Jesus Apolinaris Cruz cooled off with a water squirt gun fight with his mother and sister. As he nimbly ran and dodged their aim, he twisted around to sneak shots of water back in their direction.  Peals of laughter rang out from the group as Jesus landed a jet of water on his sister.

It’s hard to imagine that just weeks earlier, Jesus, 13, had undergone surgery near his hip to remove an unclassified tumor, so-described because it couldn’t be categorized as any specific kind of cancer.

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An unusual route to saving a child’s eye

Poppy Biagini (left) and Liam Klagges (right), each with the white glow of retinoblastoma in one eye. (Courtesy Dana Biagini and Amy Klagges)

All Poppy Biagini’s family knew was that something was off about her right eye. Liam Klagges’ family’s first sign that something was wrong was that his eyes didn’t always track properly, and that his left eyelid hung a little lower than his right.

Both children, it turns out, had a tumor called a retinoblastoma. Usually diagnosed in children younger than 5, it’s rare—only about 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with it every year—but grows rapidly from the back of the eye. For that reason, doctors have to start treating it as soon as it’s diagnosed, lest it fill the eye or start invading surrounding tissues.

There are a few different ways of treating retinoblastoma, such as chemotherapy, radiation or enucleation (surgical removal of the eye). But both Poppy and Liam’s families elected to try something different—a procedure called intra-arterial (IA) chemotherapy that delivers treatment right to the tumor. Today, both children still have both eyes because of it.

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