Researchers Discover New Therapy for a Common Childhood Cancer that has Fewer Side Effects

Dr. Douglas Hawkins is the chair of the COG study

At the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, Children’s Oncology Group (COG) researchers presented promising findings from an international study that has identified a new therapy for treating rhabdomyosarcoma, a common childhood cancer. The therapy has fewer harsh side effects, meaning it lessens the chance of infections, need for blood transfusions and infertility later in life.

“Although we did not improve the cure rate, we are excited that we have identified a therapy that was as effective as standard treatment, but has fewer harmful side effects,” said Dr. Douglas Hawkins, chair of the COG study and associate division chief of Hematology/Oncology at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Most children are cured of this cancer, and so we want to limit not only the side effects they experience during treatment, but also reduce the side effects that affect long-term health.”

Hawkins presented the findings at the ASCO meeting and proposed the therapy as the new standard treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma.

The randomized study, which involved nearly 200 centers around the world, took place over a six-year period and involved 481 patients (mostly of whom were less than 21 years of age) and had previously untreated rhabdomyosarcoma. Researchers compared standard chemotherapy to standard chemotherapy with the addition of a new medication, Irinotecan. Irinotecan is a type of chemo that works by blocking an enzyme in cells that prevents it from dividing properly, killing the cell. Researchers chose to add the medication to standard chemo because preclinical studies suggested Irinotecan was effective against rhabdomyosarcoma in the laboratory and studies in humans showed promise in patients with recurrent and metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma.

While there was no change in the cure rate between the two therapies, researchers were pleased to see that the patient group with Irinotecan had less side effects. The standard chemotherapy causes many side effects, which were reduced because researchers were able to decrease the dose of standard treatment by adding Irinotecan.

The COG study was funded by The National Cancer Institute.

Media who are interested in interviewing Dr. Douglas Hawkins should contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected].


  • Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center
  • Seattle Children’s Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program
  • Center for Clinical and Translational Research