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Kids Survive Cancer: Healthy Future?

Study Shows Most Childhood Cancer Survivors Have Chronic Health Problems as Adults
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 11, 2006 -- Well over a third of adult survivors of childhood cancer develop serious, disabling, or life-threatening health problems in the decades following treatment, and three out of four experience some chronic health issue.

Researchers followed more than 10,000 pediatric cancer survivors diagnosed and treated in the 1970s and 1980s in the largest long-term study of patient outcomes ever reported.

The findings offer a sobering, but not entirely unexpected, picture of the potential health problems faced by the approximately 270,000 adult survivors of childhood cancers living in the U.S. today.

"The numbers are stark, but you have to put them into context," researcher Kevin C. Oeffinger, MD, tells WebMD. "We have had great success treating children with cancer, but the cure usually involves fairly toxic treatments."

Second Cancers, Heart Disease

Among the major findings from the study, published in the Oct. 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • Survivors of childhood cancers were eight times as likely to develop a severe or life-threatening health problem as adult siblings with no cancer history who were close to the same age.

  • Survivors treated for bone, brain, and nervous system cancers and Hodgkin's diseasehad the highest risk of developing a chronic or life-threatening health condition.

  • Female survivors were 50% more likely than male survivors to develop serious health problems within three decades of treatment. They were also more likely to develop more than one major health problem.

Second cancers, heart, kidney, and thyroid disease, osteoporosis, fertility issues, and problems with learning and memory were the most commonly reported health issues among the survivors.

Adults treated as children for bone tumors were at particular risk for bone and muscle diseases, hearing loss, and congestive heart failure.

Those treated for brain tumors were most at risk for seizures, learning and memory problems, and hormone-related disorders.

Hodgkin's disease survivors had a particularly high risk for developing second cancers and heart disease.

'Dark Side' of Cancer Victory

Just over three decades ago, almost all children with cancer ended up dying from their disease. But advances in chemotherapy introduced in the 1970s and 1980s changed that.

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