Kids Survive Cancer: Healthy Future?
Study Shows Most Childhood Cancer Survivors Have Chronic Health Problems as Adults
'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.
Today, close to 80% of children treated for cancer in the U.S. survive.
"In the 'war on cancer' this would appear to be the battle won,"
Duke University associate professor of pediatric oncology Philip M. Rosoff, MD,
writes in an editorial accompanying the study. He added that the adult health
issues represent the "dark side" of the survival story.
Rosoff, who is an associate professor of pediatric oncology, tells WebMD
that the findings should serve as a clarion call to doctors and adult survivors
of childhood cancers.
"We have known about these risks, but have not been very successful in
getting the message out," he says. "We also have an ongoing obligation
to make long-term care available to these patients."
He points out that most survivors of pediatric cancers have no follow-up
care after they reach age 21, even though the health problems linked to cancer
treatment usually occur later in life.
Many adult survivors also know little about their cancer or the treatment
they received. This information is vital, Rosoff points out, for understanding
and addressing long-term risks.
Putting It in Writing
The experts agree that, at the very least, patients and their families
should be provided with a written, portable document detailing the specifics of
their cancer treatment and their long-term risks.
Adult survivors who understand their long-term health risks can often do a
lot to reduce them, Oeffinger says.
He cites three specific examples where close monitoring and aggressive
preventive efforts could make a big difference:
Women treated with chest radiation during childhood are at very high risk
for developing breast cancerand
should be screened early and often for the disease. Early detection is
particularly important, Oeffinger says, because these patients usually cannot
tolerate the most aggressive breast cancer treatments.
Bone cancer survivors are at increased risk for osteoporosisand should be screened and treated aggressively.
Cancer patients who have had treatments known to weaken the heart should be
followed closely for heart problems.
"The silver lining to all of this is that we believe that many of the
health problems can be avoided if patients adopt healthy lifestyles and if they
are closely monitored and treated aggressively," Oeffinger says.