Updated: 03/08/2014 8:46 AM KSTP.com By: Josh Rosenthal
There are about 700 new cases of neuroblastoma in the U.S. every year, according to the American Cancer Institute. It's a type of childhood cancer and treating it is an inexact science. At least, it's an inexact science for now. There's a relatively new therapy for neuroblastoma that's now being offered in Minnesota.
That's big news for Raymond Yeager, who started having health problems at age 14.
"I was enjoying my birthday, my birthday at the lake and stuff, and just started having really bad hip pain for like four or five days straight," he explained. It was a tumor. Now 20, Yeager has dealt with neuroblastoma ever since.
He's undergone chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, a stem cell transplant, immunotherapy -- nothing worked. It made him the perfect candidate for the first MIBG therapy at Amplatz Children's Hospital in Minneapolis.
MIBG is short for a substance that finds cancer cells inside a patient's body. In this therapy, doctors combine MIBG with iodine 131, which is radioactive. Basically, in an ideal world, the MIBG finds the cancer, the iodine kills it.
"This treatment won't likely replace all of those other therapies that we use when a patient is newly diagnosed," explained Dr. Emily Greengard, who treats Yaeger, "but it might add to it in order to hopefully improve the outcomes."
Greengard says there are only about a dozen places in the country that offer this type of therapy. She's clear that right now we don't know if MIBG therapy is an end-all-be-all solution, but she thinks it's helping Yaeger.
"I think he would be in much worse shape than he is right now," she said. "I think, hopefully he would still be alive and doing things that he enjoys, but I don't know if his quality of life would be quite where it is right now."
Yaeger says he does feel a little better, especially his lungs. He's even taking on-line college courses after having to drop out twice because of the cancer.
He has picked up a few interesting stories to tell along the way too. For instance, after receiving MIBG therapy, patients are literally radioactive. That means Yaeger had to spend about a week -- mostly alone -- inside a special lead-lined hospital room.
"I think I've been through worse," he smiled at the thought.
Now he hopes the worst is behind him.
"That would be amazing if this turns out to be some miraculous cure, of course. It would feel pretty great," he said.
Doctors now expect neuroblastoma patients from other parts of the country to come to Minneapolis for this treatment.
Shortly after KSTP's interviews with Yaeger and Greengard, they got new test results back.
Greengard says scans show that Yaeger's neuroblastoma has not changed since before the MIBG treatment, but his symptoms have improved. She says she is encouraged by the results because she thinks the treatment prevented Yaeger's neuroblastoma from progressing further.
Doctors now plan on treating Yaeger with MIBG therapy again.