Childhood Cancer Survivors Pay Heavy Health Toll as Adults, Study Finds

Data presented at the ASCO annual meeting show that survivors of childhood cancers are five times more likely to suffer from severe or life-threatening health problems than their healthy siblings. The data come from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), a multi-institutional research project funded by NCI to investigate long-term morbidity and mortality associated with cancer treatment among survivors of pediatric cancers.

The study included 10,397 adults aged 18 to 48 who had been diagnosed with childhood cancer between 1970 and 1986 and had survived more than 5 years. The control group contained 3,304 healthy siblings ranging in age from 18 to 56. Some of the serious health problems seen among study participants included second malignant neoplasm (excluding nonmelanoma skin and thyroid cancer), heart attack, coronary artery bypass surgery, dialysis or kidney transplant, and mental retardation requiring special education. By age 45, such problems were observed in 37.4 percent of the childhood cancer survivors, compared with only 4.6 percent of the control group.

According to the study's lead author, Dr. Kevin C. Oeffinger of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 57.1 percent of cancer survivors reported moderate health problems by age 45, compared with 18.2 percent of their healthy siblings. Such moderate health problems included scars in the lungs that required oxygen therapy, congestive heart failure, blood clots in the head or lungs, cirrhosis of the liver, ovarian or testicular failure, and loss of an eye or even blindness.

"Although contemporary treatment regimens and technologies may have lessened some late effects associated with childhood cancer treatments, the acute and long-term side effects of cancer treatment remain significant for the growth and development of these children and for the health of the adults that they become," commented Dr. Barry Anderson, CCSS program director at NCI. Source: NCI Newsletter 5/17/2005

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