New Treatment for Most Common Cancer in Babies

Neuroblastoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for babies in the first year of life. It's an aggressive disease and less than half of its victims survive. But there's new hope in a new treatment. CBS News Contributor and Neurosurgeon CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on this promising therapy that's already saving young lives.

Kindergarten was supposed to mean new friends and ballet for 6-year-old Hayley Kudro. But she said she wasn't eating well because of her tumor. "It filled up my whole belly," Hayley replied.

(Scroll down to watch the video.)

Instead, she's spent the past year enduring toxic treatments for a cancer her family had never even heard of.

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"We didn't really have a choice," said Haley's mom, Karen. "It was do this, or lose her."

Last year, Hayley was diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a cancer of the nervous system. It was the most aggressive form: she had a softball-sized tumor in her belly that choked her liver and pancreas.

"Without treatment it will grow and spread and kill the child within a matter of months," said Dr. John M. Maris, of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Hayley had the standard treatment including chemotherapy, major surgery and radiation. But she's also receiving a drug treatment called immunotherapy - designed to rev up her own immune system to kill the cancer. The immunotherapy drug not only stimulates the child's immune system, it attacks tumor cells.

A new study of 226 high-risk patients like Hayley found that adding the immunotherapy to the standard therapy improved the survival rates by 20 percent. It was so effective, the trial was stopped early.

Gupta asked Maris, "How often do you get to say in cancer research, 'wow, we've found something that works, maybe even cures?'"

"This is one of those moments where we've proven a therapy makes a major difference," he replied.

This is an expensive treatment, costing up to $40,000. Its side effects are relatively mild, just severe flu symptoms once a month during the treatment.

Immunotherapy will be added to traditional treatments in a variety of cancers including breast cancer, melanoma, and kidney cancer.

Hayley is back in first grade. Doctors believe her tumor is gone. Thanks to immunotherapy, it may not come back.