More older patients receiving stem-cell transplants at KU Cancer Center

If Patti Kennicott had gotten her diagnosis 10 years earlier, she would have had only a few months to live, Joseph McGuirk says.

Kennicott, who lives in Ottawa, was 62 when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2010. Ten years before, conventional wisdom among doctors would have been that she was too old to receive a stem-cell transplant to treat her cancer, and her chance of survival would have been slim.

But Kennicott, now 65, is still alive. She received a stem-cell transplant at the Kansas University Cancer Centers Blood and Marrow Transplant program in February 2011.

And thats no longer a rare outcome for someone her age. The KU BMT program now sees more transplant patients in their 60s, and even their 70s or 80s, than ever before, after recent research has shown that stem-cell transplants can indeed be safe for older people.

Things have changed a lot since McGuirk, the medical director for the BMT program, started in his field in the early 1990s.

Back then, he said, the two-year survival rate was about 5 percent for a 70-year-old who received Kennicotts diagnosis of AML.

It was terrible, every bit as bad as pancreas cancer, McGuirk said.

Back then, doctors assumed that the intensive chemotherapy and radiation that accompanied stem-cell transplants would be too much for elderly patients even though some blood-borne cancers, such as AML, are more common in older people.

But since about 2000, doctors at KU and elsewhere have found that stem-cell transplants were effective in treating those cancers even without those other intensive therapies, using donors stronger immune systems to destroy the cancer.

So by the time Kennicott got her diagnosis, transplants for patients 60 and older were commonplace at the KU Cancer Center.

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More older patients receiving stem-cell transplants at KU Cancer Center

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