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Cancer Health Center

Childhood Cancer Survivors Unhealthy as Adults

Researchers Say Survivors Have More Physical and Emotional Problems
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Radiation a Major Culprit continued...

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 problems.

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.

A Call for Annual Checkups

At the same time, Oeffinger says, some of the same chemotherapy drugs used in the 1970s are still helping people beat cancer today. More than 75% of children are cured of cancer today, compared with just 58% in 1975.

"The important thing for survivors to know is that the impact of these health problems can be reduced with regular care," says Oeffinger, who recommends annual checkups.

Most family doctors only have about three or four cancer survivors in their entire practice, he says. "They don't really have that much experience, so it's often up to the cancer survivor to take the initiative."

Dealing With Emotional Needs

In the second study, 53% of cancer survivors said that their "emotional needs are harder than their physical needs" and 70% reported depression due to their cancer.

Despite this, an alarming 70% said their doctors were "unable to assist with nonmedical issues," says Steven N. Wolff, MD, professor of medicine at the Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.

The survey of more than 1,000 cancer survivors was conducted by the nonprofit Lance Armstrong Foundation.

David Johnson, MD, president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology and a cancer survivor himself, says he's not surprised by the results. "After I completed treatment with one of the best doctors I know, I asked what to do next and he said, 'I don't know.'

"This is an unacceptable answer. Now that we have identified the scope of the problem, we have to figure out what to do," says Johnson, an oncologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Among issues that he hopes will be looked at in future research are the role of exercise and diet in helping to relieve depression and anxiety.

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