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

Solving the mystery of a shapeshifting neck tumor

Jaedin, who had a cervical teratoma, is now 10 years old. He is pictured with a remote-controlled race car this past Christmas.
Jaedin, 10 years old, holds the control for a remote-controlled race car, Christmas 2017.

Amanda Brown couldn’t shake an uneasy intuition that something just seemed “off” throughout her second pregnancy. During a scheduled caesarian section at her local hospital in North Carolina, her instinct proved to be true.

“I had given birth to my first son by C-section so I knew what to expect,” Amanda says. “But this time around, as the surgeons totally stalled in the middle of the delivery, I thought to myself, ‘it doesn’t take this long to pull a baby out.’”

When her son Jaedin was finally delivered, Amanda and her husband were shocked by their first sight of him.

“Jaedin had a huge mass on the left side of his neck that looked like it was growing out of his ear,” Amanda says. “The doctors told us they didn’t know what the mass was and that they would have to take him to a nearby children’s hospital right away.”

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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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