Childhood Cancer Survivors Unhealthy as Adults
Researchers Say Survivors Have More Physical and Emotional Problems
May 16, 2005 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Adult survivors of childhood cancer have
more physical and emotional problems than other men and women, according to two
In one study, researchers found that two out of three adults who beat
childhood cancer develop cirrhosis, heart disease, and other serious health
A separate study showed that nearly three-fourths of cancer survivors
experience serious emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, and other
lingering psychiatric problems.
There are more than 270,000 adults who are survivors of childhood cancer in
the U.S., according to researchers, who presented their studies here Monday at
the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.
According to the National Cancer Institute, over the past 20 years there has
been some increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with all forms of
cancers. During this same time, however, death rates declined dramatically and
five-year survival rates have increased for most childhood cancers. The
improvement in survival is due mostly to advances in treatment resulting in a
Health Problems of Cancer Survivors
The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study included 10,397 people who were
diagnosed with a childhood cancer between 1970 and 1986. They had survived a
variety of cancers, chiefly brain or bone tumors or blood cell cancers such as
leukemia or lymphoma.
Compared with their siblings, the survivors "were almost twice as likely
to have some health condition," says researcher Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD,
professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center in Dallas.
When he looked at more serious medical problems, the outlook was even
bleaker. The cancer survivors were 4.4 times more likely to have heart failure,
secondary cancers, mental retardation, or other "severe, life-threatening
or disabling" medical conditions than their brothers and sisters.
Some of the survivors needed kidney transplants, others were legally blind,
and still others suffered paralysis, he says.
Radiation a Major Culprit
Large doses of radiation used to diagnose and treat some of the cancers seem
to be the main reason, Oeffinger tells WebMD. Some of the toxic drugs used to
kill cancer cells are also to blame, he says.
Sandra J. Horning MD, the incoming president of the American Society for
Clinical Oncology and professor of medicine at Stanford University, says some
"fairly dramatic changes" in doses and delivery of radiation as well as
in chemotherapy regimens put children today at lower risk of secondary health
Since the 1970s and 1980s "there has been a tremendous change" in
radiation, which is now more targeted to the area of a tumor.
"Also, we use lower doses and have lessened the duration of some
chemotherapy regimens," she says.