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Cancer Health Center

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Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Late Effects of the Central Nervous System

Table 3. Central Nervous System Late Effects

Predisposing TherapyNeurologic EffectsHealth Screening
IQ = intelligence quotient; IT = intrathecal; IV = intravenous.
Platinum agents (carboplatin, cisplatin)Peripheral sensory neuropathyNeurologic exam
Plant alkaloid agents (vinblastine, vincristine)Peripheral sensory or motor neuropathy (areflexia, weakness, foot drop, paresthesias)Neurologic exam
Methotrexate (high dose IV or IT); cytarabine (high dose IV or IT); radiation impacting the brainClinical leukoencephalopathy (spasticity, ataxia, dysarthria, dysphagia, hemiparesis, seizures); headaches; seizures; sensory deficitsHistory: cognitive, motor, and/or sensory deficits, seizures
Neurologic exam
Radiation impacting cerebrovascular structuresCerebrovascular complications (stroke, moyamoya, occlusive cerebral vasculopathy)History: transient/permanent neurological events
Blood pressure
Neurologic exam
Neurosurgery-brainMotor and/or sensory deficits (paralysis, movement disorders, ataxia, eye problems [ocular nerve palsy, gaze paresis, nystagmus, papilledema, optic atrophy]); seizuresNeurologic exam
Neurology evaluation
Neurosurgery-brainHydrocephalus; shunt malfunctionAbdominal x-ray
Neurosurgery evaluation
Neurosurgery-spineNeurogenic bladder; urinary incontinenceHistory: hematuria, urinary urgency/frequency, urinary incontinence/retention, dysuria, nocturia, abnormal urinary stream
Neurosurgery-spineNeurogenic bowel; fecal incontinenceHistory: chronic constipation, fecal soiling
Rectal exam
Predisposing TherapyNeuropsychological EffectsHealth Screening
Methotrexate (high-dose IV or IT); cytarabine (high-dose IV or IT); radiation impacting the brain; neurosurgery-brainNeurocognitive deficits (executive function, memory, attention, processing speed, etc.); learning deficits; diminished IQ; behavioral changeAssessment of educational and vocational progress
Formal neuropsychological evaluation


Many childhood cancer survivors have adverse quality of life or other adverse psychological outcomes. Incorporation of psychological screening into clinical visits for childhood cancer survivors may be valuable; however, limiting such evaluations to those returning to long-term follow-up clinics may result in a biased subsample of those with more difficulties, and precise prevalence rates may be difficult to establish. A review of behavioral, emotional, and social adjustment among survivors of childhood brain tumors illustrates this point, in whom rates of psychological maladjustment range from 25% to 93%.[59] In a series of CNS malignancy survivors (n = 802) reported from the CCSS, adverse outcome indicators of successful adult adaptation (educational attainment, income, employment, and marital status) were most likely in survivors who report neurocognitive dysfunction.[4] Collectively, studies evaluating psychosocial outcomes among CNS tumor survivors indicate deficits in social competence in the level of social adjustment that worsen over time.[60] In a CCSS study that evaluated predictors of independent living status across diagnostic groups, adult survivors of childhood cancer with neurocognitive, psychological, or physical late effects were less likely to live independently as adults compared with a sibling control group.[61] The presence of chronic health conditions can also impact other aspects of psychological health. In a study that evaluated psychological outcomes among long-term survivors treated with hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT), 22% of survivors and 8% of sibling controls reported adverse outcomes. Somatic distress was the most prevalent among the domains studied and affected 15% of HCT survivors, representing a threefold higher risk compared with siblings. HCT survivors with severe/life-threatening conditions and active chronic GVHD had a twofold increased risk for somatic distress.[62]

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