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Girls Surviving Cancer Face More Battles

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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May 6, 2002 -- For girls who survive childhood cancer, the battle isn't over once the cancer is gone. Three new studies look at the outcome for both boys and girls, and show that girls, in particular, are at high risk of developing another cancer, and may not live to age 21. If they do reach adulthood and become pregnant, they will likely have low birth weight babies.

These are among the findings presented by investigators from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies' meeting this week.

In the first study, researchers looked at more than 13,000 children diagnosed with common cancers before age 21 who survived at least five years after their diagnosis. Girls treated with chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease or soft-tissue sarcoma were most likely to have second malignancies, and typically bone and breast cancers.

In the second study, researchers looked at the death rate among 20,227 childhood cancer survivors, finding a 10-fold increased death rate specifically among girls whose initial diagnosis was leukemia. Recurrence of the original cancer was the leading cause of death, accounting for 67% of deaths; second malignancies, heart disorders, and pulmonary problems were also causes of death. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments were linked to the increased deaths.

In the third study, researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 sexually active female survivors of childhood cancer. They found that chemotherapy did not adversely affect the pregnancies of any of these women; however, their babies were more likely to have low birth weight.

Physicians seeing pregnant women with a history of childhood cancer need to be aware of this potential complication, and the potential adverse impact of low birth weight may have on the subsequent health of their children," says Joseph Neglia, MD, a study investigator and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, in a press release.

Other studies by CCSS researchers have found that women treated with radiation therapy as children have an increase in cancer risk, particularly breast cancer.

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