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Childhood Cancer May Raise Physical Challenges

Some May Need More Help With Activities Than Their Siblings
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Oct. 31, 2005 -- Childhood cancer survivors may be more likely to face physical challenges than their brothers and sisters, new research shows.

That's based on a study of more than 11,000 childhood cancer survivors and more than 3,800 of their siblings.

Limitations in physical performance were rare for both groups. However, they were more common for the cancer survivors.

One in five of the cancer survivors reported physical performance limitations, compared with slightly over one in 10 of their brothers and sisters who hadn't had cancer.

The report appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

More Survivors

Childhood cancers haven't been defeated. However, there are more survivors of childhood cancer than in the past.

It takes strong medicine to do that. The treatments that help beat childhood cancer can affect kids' development, raising the odds of problems later in life.

Researchers want to learn how childhood cancer survivors fare as they mature -- and what might help them thrive.

Studying Childhood Cancer Survivors

The new study was done by researchers including Kirsten Ness, PhD, of the University of Minnesota's pediatrics department.

Most of the childhood cancer survivors had had leukemia. Others had had cancers of the brain or bones.

Ness and colleagues checked the kids' medical records. They also surveyed the kids' parents or the kids themselves, if they were at least 18 years old.

Topics included vigorous activities (like running), moderate activities (such as carrying groceries), and daily chores (like eating, dressing, and going to school).

The key question: How often in the previous two years did the child's health or any impairment stop them from taking part in those activities or from performing those activities normally?

What's a Limitation?

Children who had survived brain and bone cancer were particularly likely to report performance limitations, write the researchers.

The surveys don't show how severe those limitations were. Some kids may have needed help occasionally or with certain sorts of tasks but not others.

For instance, the study was "unable to account for the possibility that participants may have occasionally (rather than regularly) missed work or that they may have needed help with shopping but not with household chores," write the researchers.

They call for awareness about possible limitations for childhood cancer survivors -- even years after treatment -- and rehabilitation, when needed.

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