This 8-Year-Old Girl Is the First Person In the World to Beat Brain Cancer


A brave little girl just proved you can never be too young to change the world.

The news: Eight-year-old Claudia Burkill, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer three years ago, became the first person in the world to beat the illness.

Doctors diagnosed Claudia with metastatic pineoblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, when she was just 5 years old.

Across the globe, only about four cases of metastatic pineoblastoma are diagnosed each year. Claudia's mom, Andrea Burkill, was told her daughter had about a 5% chance of surviving the aggressive disease.

The background: Overall, the chance of someone developing a cancerous brain or spinal cord tumor in his or her lifetime is less than 1% (about 1 in 140 for a man and 1 in 180 for a woman).

Pineoblastomas are even more rare, accounting for less than .1% of all brain tumors. These growths occur in the pineal gland, a tiny, pine-cone-shaped structure responsible for secreting melatonin, a critical hormone involved in regulating our sleep cycle.

Image Credit: Claudia's Cause

Claudia's story: Claudia's parents were not satisfied when doctors first diagnosed her with a virus in 2011. It was when they took her to another physician for a second opinion that doctors found the tumor in the center of her brain. Claudia shortly began undergoing an experimental Italian treatment consisting of 44 grueling sessions of radiotherapy, a treatment in which doctors focus high-energy radiation beams onto the affected area. The radiation permanently damages the DNA of cancer cells (it also affects healthy tissues nearby, but these cells are usually able to repair the DNA damage and continue growing normally).

What's next? Recently, scientists have been trying out various techniques to beat cancer, from vaccines for cervical and prostate cancer to immunotherapy, a treatment in which doctors prescribe a cocktail of drugs designed to unleash the body's immune system and combat tumors. In May, shortly after receiving a single, massive dose of the measles vaccine, a 50-year-old woman with an aggressive form of blood cancer went into remission.

Hopefully Claudia's story will inspire them to keep going.