Childhood Cancer's Health Woes Persist for Years

June 11, 2013 (Wall Street Journal) -- As advances in treating pediatric cancers allow more and more patients to live into adulthood, doctors are increasingly concerned about the long-term health effects of the very treatments that saved them as children.

Researchers found, in a large study of adult survivors of childhood cancer, that more than 95% suffered from a chronic health condition by the age of 45, including pulmonary, hearing, cardiac and other problems related either to their cancer or the cancer treatment.

Many serious health conditions went undiagnosed until the participants joined the study, the researchers found, raising questions about whether survivors are receiving proper follow-up care given their higher risks for certain health problems later in life.

"Doctors may not be thinking about a heart-valve disorder in someone in his 30s, but if you had radiation to your chest at 10, this is something to think about," said Melissa M. Hudson, principal investigator and one of the authors of the study, which was published in JAMA.

The findings are based on a large, long-term health assessment involving more than 1,700 adults who were diagnosed and treated for cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis between 1962 and 2001. Study participants, who were at least 10 years past diagnosis, agreed to come back to St. Jude to undergo a battery of tests and physical examinations. In addition to overall health, researchers looked at some specific risks patients faced depending on the kind of cancer they had or the types of chemotherapy and radiation used to treat them.

The authors reported that among survivors who had undergone treatments associated with pulmonary risks, 65% were then found to have pulmonary problems. Of those exposed to cardiotoxic therapies, 56.4% turned out to have cardiac abnormalities. Many of these conditions were diagnosed as a result of the evaluations done for the study.

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Christine Bork
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