Michael Link, MD
The cure rate for pediatric cancer, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), have increased to approximately 90% in recent years. Moreover, encouraging phase III data suggest more therapeutic developments are occurring in this space.
Link, Lydia J. Lee Professor in Pediatric Cancer, professor, Pediatrics, Stanford Cancer Institute, discussed the exciting progress being made for various pediatric tumors.
OncLive: How has the field of pediatric oncology evolved in recent years?
During my career, there has been phenomenal progress in the management of pediatric cancers. We now cure about 80% of children with this disease. In some diseases, such as ALL, it's closer to being between 90% and 95%. Looking back, when I started my fellowship, many of these diseases were incurable. For leukemia, perhaps 30% to 40% of children were cured. Now, we cure the overwhelming majority.
Burkitt lymphoma, a disease which I have an interest in, was incurable for everyone. Now, we cure with impunity—even patients with very advanced lymphoma. It's been a sea change and a wonderful time to be part of that tremendous improvement.
What are some milestones throughout your career that stand out?
The idea that we moved through incremental advances in clinical trials with these huge improvements in outcomes has been wonderful to see. Of course, these patients and their families that you devote your time to become part of your life. They are survivors. You realize some of the accomplishments that you were part of were disseminated elsewhere. You also see it in your own patients. You have a local impact, which is the most satisfying. However, also knowing you had an impact on someone else's life is a great feeling.
Are there any recently presented studies that you find to be practice changing?
One of the clear practice-changing studies is the addition of a new drug for the management of T-cell leukemia. This is a disease that, early on in my career, was most difficult to treat. We made very little progress early on—sort of hovering around curing 30% of children. With the advent of using the same drug, we managed to boost the outcome for these children to almost the same as other children with leukemia. We're still looking for those incremental changes that will continue to improve outcomes.
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