During the past five decades, dramatic progress has been made in the development of curative therapy for pediatric malignancies. Long-term survival into adulthood is the expectation for 80% of children with access to contemporary therapies for pediatric malignancies. The therapy responsible for this survival can also produce adverse long-term health-related outcomes, referred to as "late effects," that manifest months to years after completion of cancer treatment. A variety of approaches have been used to advance knowledge about the very long-term morbidity associated with childhood cancer and its contribution to early mortality. These initiatives have utilized a spectrum of resources including investigation of data from population-based registries, self-reported outcomes provided through large-scale cohort studies, and information collected from medical assessments. Studies reporting outcomes in survivors who have been well characterized in regards to clinical status and treatment exposures, and comprehensively ascertained for specific effects through medical assessments, typically provide the highest quality of data to establish the occurrence and risk profiles for late cancer treatment-related toxicity. Regardless of study methodology, it is important to consider selection and participation bias of the cohort studies in the context of the findings reported.
Late effects are commonly experienced by adults who have survived childhood cancer and demonstrate an increasing prevalence associated with longer time elapsed from cancer diagnosis. Population-based studies support excess hospital-related morbidity among childhood cancer survivors compared with age- and gender-matched controls.[2,3,4,5] Research has clearly demonstrated that late effects contribute to a high burden of morbidity among adults treated for cancer during childhood, with at least two-thirds developing one or more chronic health conditions and at least one-third experiencing severe or life-threatening complications during adulthood.[2,3] Recognition of late effects, concurrent with advances in cancer biology, radiological sciences, and supportive care, has resulted in a change in the prevalence and spectrum of treatment effects. In an effort to reduce and prevent late effects, contemporary therapy for the majority of pediatric malignancies has evolved to a risk-adapted approach that is assigned based on a variety of clinical, biological, and sometimes genetic factors. With the exception of survivors requiring intensive multimodality therapy for aggressive or refractory/relapsed malignancies, life-threatening treatment effects are relatively uncommon after contemporary therapy in early follow-up (up to 10 years after diagnosis). However, survivors still frequently experience life-altering morbidity related to effects of cancer treatment affecting endocrine, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and neurologic function.
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Late effects also contribute to an excess risk of premature death among long-term survivors of childhood cancer. Several studies of very large cohorts of survivors have reported early mortality among individuals treated for childhood cancer compared with age- and gender-matched general population controls.[6,7,8,9,10,11]; [Level of evidence: 3iA] Relapsed/refractory primary cancer remains the most frequent cause of death, followed by excess cause-specific mortality from second primary cancers and cardiac and pulmonary toxicity.[6,7,8,9,10,11,12] Despite high premature morbidity rates, overall mortality has decreased over time.[13,14] This reduction is related to a decrease in deaths from the primary cancer without an associated increase in mortality from second cancers or treatment-related toxicities. The former reflects improvements in therapeutic efficacy, and the latter reflects changes in therapy made subsequent to studying the causes of late effects. The expectation that mortality rates in survivors will continue to exceed those in the general population is based on the long-term sequelae that are likely to increase with attained age. If patients treated on therapeutic protocols are followed for long periods into adulthood, it will be possible to evaluate the excess lifetime mortality in relation to specific therapeutic interventions.