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Childhood Cancer and Psychiatric Problems

Brain Cancer Survivors Have More Problems, but Other Survivors Don't
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Remarkable Progress, but With a Price continued...

Brain tumor survivors had an increased risk for schizophrenia, with 11 cases diagnosed among the almost 1,000 cases included in the study. But it was not clear whether the radiation used in the treatment of brain cancers was to blame.

They found no significant difference in the risk of schizophrenia among brain tumor survivors who were and were not treated with radiation. But the researchers conclude that they cannot completely rule out the possibility that brain irradiation may increase the risk of schizophrenia among survivors of brain tumors.

Johansen tells WebMD that the overall message from the study is positive.

"For the majority of survivors, cancer treatment is not a risk factor for psychiatric disorders later in life," he says. "On the other hand, patients who have been treated for brain tumors have to be made aware of this possible future risk."

Follow-Up Needed

Childhood cancer expert Joseph V. Simone, MD, says long-term follow-up is critical for all pediatric cancer survivors. In an editorial accompanying the study, the former St. Jude Children's Research Hospital CEO wrote that systematic follow-up of childhood cancer patients is badly needed in the U.S. He recently served as chairman of an Institute of Medicine policy board, which will make recommendations for improving follow-up in a report scheduled for release this fall.

"Even though childhood cancer is largely curable, it should be thought of as a chronic disease," he tells WebMD. "The treatments that we have available today, while effective, are tough and some are quite toxic. Patients have to have regular checkups for the rest of their life and be alert to potential problems."

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