Justin Bieber Dream Date Shines Light on Rare Pediatric Cancer

February 14, 2012


Avalanna Routh celebrated Valentine's Day this year with a date for the ages. The six-year-old Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center patient, who has been diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, went on a "dream date" with Justin Bieber, thanks in part to a Facebook campaign to have Routh meet the pop star. As important as the date itself, however, is the attention it has focused on atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, or AT/RT.

"AT/RT doesn't get a lot of attention mainly because the disease is relatively rare," says Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, a pediatric oncologist and AT/RT expert at Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. "When you compare a hundred or so cases a year worldwide to millions of cases of breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer every year, this just isn't on a lot of people's radar or in medical research budgets."

Routh was diagnosed with AT/RT when she was nine months old. AT/RT typically affects the brain, but the tumors can occur on the spine and elsewhere in the central nervous system. The average survival time from diagnosis is approximately 12 months, according to the National Cancer Institute. Thanks to an intense, multi-pronged therapy regimen developed by Kieran and other researchers at Dana-Farber Boston Children's  a few young children have been cured, while others, including Routh, have been given a better shot at long-term survival.

"I don't want to underestimate how really difficult battling this disease has been both for Avalanna and her parents," says Kieran. "But Avalanna is exactly the kind of proof that we can make an impact on a rare and highly deadly disease if we develop an understanding of what the disease is and provide, based on all our new molecular and novel therapeutic targets, the kinds of treatments that can actually improve survival rates and save lives."

The Dana-Farber Boston Children's Pediatric Brain Tumor Program utilizes a team approach to patient care and includes world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, a dedicated pediatric radiation oncologist and other specialists from several medical disciplines who work together to maximize outcomes for patients.

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