TAMPA (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- It has taken years of research, breakthroughs, and improvements to therapy, and about 80 percent of kids with cancer will survive the disease. Doctors say there is still so much to learn and so many lives to save. Now, some are turning to saliva for answers.
Cancer patient Olivia Rivera is doing this to help herself and countless other kids just like her.
Olivia says, "I think that hopefully my spit helps."
Olivia is part of a saliva study at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
Dr. Gregory Hale, associate professor of oncology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Tampa, Florida says one of the goals is "to actually get information from those samples that we don't even have available from bloodwork right now."
Dr. Hale says they're trying to determine the effectiveness of using saliva samples instead of blood. This could mean one less blood draw for patients like Olivia.
"I'd rather not have to have a needle in me," says Olivia.
Doctors are hoping to use the saliva samples to determine which drugs may be best for each patient. The samples can also detect if there's too much medicine in the patients' system. High levels can lead to long term side effects like heart problems.
"Certainly heart problems in pediatric population can be terrible because you're giving a significant side effect to a young person that can actually result in a lifelong disability," explains Dr. Hale.
Olivia's mother Katrina is glad doctors are doing everything they can to make this process less painful.
She says, "I think it's making a big difference for Olivia."
And possibly, a big difference in cancer research.
Researchers are collecting samples from 60 patients who are being treated with the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. The samples are also being stored so they can be used in future studies. One long-term goal is to develop a home kit for collection of saliva samples.