Surviving Childhood Cancer Leads to Adult Chronic Illness

Survivors of childhood cancers are likely to have chronic ailments such as lower lung function and heart conditions that require medical attention as they become adults, researchers said.

The prevalence of these health concerns increased as the survivors aged, and two-thirds of those treated for childhood cancer reported a severe, disabling or life-threatening condition as adults, according to a study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As new therapies allow patients to live longer after a cancer diagnosis, researchers are beginning to focus on the gap between successful treatment by oncologists and follow-up by other doctors. Chemotherapy and radiation, the weapons used to attack cancer, can carry severe side effects, some of which emerge years after treatment, the authors wrote. Today’s data, the first to measure clinical outcomes from older survivors, is striking for the number of those with declining mental ability, heart valve disorders and lowered lung function.

“It’s surprising that so many had new health abnormalities discovered by the testing,” Melissa Hudson, an oncologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said in a telephone interview. “Our survivors have grown up and gone out in the community with primary care physicians who may not be aware of their risks, since pediatric cancer survivors are relatively rare.”

Initial Screening

The results underscore the importance of making sure cancer survivors and their doctors have information about the initial treatment. That will lead to better screening, Hudson said. Many of the ailments detected in the cancer survivors were in “mild-to-moderate stages,” she said, allowing the opportunity to preserve the health of the patients, she said.

The study, of more than 1,700 adult survivors of childhood cancer, found that 98 percent experienced a chronic health ailment. The most prevalent issue found was abnormal lung function, which affected about two-thirds of survivors. Another 62 percent had hearing loss. Endocrine and reproductive disorders were next-most common, followed by heart conditions and neurocognitive impairment.

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