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Chemo infusion pumpMADISON – Neuroblastoma, a cancer that arises from the adrenal gland or nerve tissue, is the fourth most common childhood cancer and a difficult disease to treat successfully in children over the age of one. This summer, American Family Children’s Hospital will become one of only five children’s hospitals in the nation with the facilities to provide specialized treatment for this disease.

The treatment involves a chemical compound named meta-iodobenzylguadine, called MIBG for short, which is attached to radioactive iodine. The drug may be used to treat very high-risk neuroblastoma patients and results in therapeutic doses of radiation being delivered to the cancer. It is mainly reserved for patients for whom conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy and surgeries, have failed.

"[The chemical] is only absorbed by the tumors, so we are able to deliver high doses of radiation directly to the tumor to kill it," explained Ken De Santes, MD, pediatric oncologist with the American Family Children’s Hospital. "It’s different from traditional radiation treatments in that we’re able to target the primary tumor as well as all metastatic sites, while leaving normal tissue relatively unscathed."

One challenge with the treatment is that the patient actually becomes "radioactive" for a short time, due to the high levels of radioactive material administered. Consequently, caregivers and parents can have minimal contact with the patient for the first 24 hours. Most facilities aren’t equipped to handle the radiation safety concerns, which is why so few centers are able to provide this specialized treatment.

"We knew we wanted to offer the treatment," said Dr. De Santes, "So we had the luxury of planning for the treatment room at the time the Children’s Hospital was being built."

The room, on the fourth floor of American Family Children’s Hospital, is fitted with a four inch thick lead door. Special monitors enable the nurses to observe the patient from the nurses’ station. A closed-circuit television and audio/visual system allow parents to see and communicate with the child. There is even a DVD and gaming system to provide some entertainment, and next door is a small room for the parents to stay.

While the treatment room is ready a few details need to be addressed before patients can begin receiving this treatment. According to Dr. De Santes, "Our goal is to be operational this summer."


Since there are very few other centers in the nation able to provide this treatment, there are usually waiting lists. The availability of a facility at American Family Children’s Hospital offers patients another option, which is particularly important given the advancements in research.

"MIBG may eventually be used in the early stages of treatment due to clinical trials. If that becomes the case, then the need for MIBG facilities increases significantly. The American Family Children’s Hospital will be at the forefront and ready to meet the needs of our patients," said Dr. De Santes.

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Date Published: 07/08/2009

News tag(s):  pediatric cancerchildrenkenneth b de santes

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