Childhood cancer survivors face higher chance of health problems later in life, study finds

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Survivors required more doctor visits and faced more general health risks

A new study conducted by researchers from University College London explored how childhood cancer may affect consumers’ health into adulthood. According to their findings, cancer survivors have a higher risk of developing serious health concerns later in life, including cardiovascular conditions, immune system disorders, and other types of cancer

“Our study is the first to fully map out how surviving cancer early in life affects our health as we grow older,” said researcher Dr. Alvina Lai. “We believe it’s important for these long-term effects to be considered early on by families and their health care teams, so the benefits of a therapy can be weighed against any long-term risk. Awareness of these long-term issues is also important for survivors, who are better able to spot symptoms early.” 

Understanding the long-term health risks

For the study, the researchers analyzed the health records of over 3,400 people who had been diagnosed with cancer in England before the age of 25 and had survived at least five years post-diagnosis. They compared those results with over 13,000 people who had no history of the illness while paying close attention to the number of doctors’ visits and common medical conditions. 

The study showed that participants who had survived childhood cancer had overall poorer health outcomes than those who hadn’t been diagnosed with the disease. Cancer survivors were more likely to spend time in the hospital and have more visits with their general practitioners than non-cancer survivors. 

Additionally, when cancer survivors developed serious medical conditions later in life, it significantly affected their mortality. For example, immune system disorders or infections were associated with losing nearly seven more years of life among survivors when compared to those with no history of cancer. Similarly, developing heart disease or other cancers was linked with losing more than a decade of life. 

Different cancer treatments play a role in health outcomes

The researchers also learned that different types of cancer treatments affected the body differently down the road. Patients who received radiation and chemotherapy had more health risks, including a higher risk of developing cancer again, than those who had surgery. 

This also translated to more doctor and hospital visits. The study found that participants who received chemotherapy and radiation to treat their cancer had up to seven times more general practitioner visits related to heart diseases and twice as many hospitalizations for the same condition. 

“Combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy is effective at saving lives but is associated with a lower quality of life in the long term,” said researcher Wai Hoong. “Our study suggests using lower doses could reduce these long-term effects.” 

Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings spur future research projects that take into account the long-term health effects of cancer treatments. 

“Over 80% of children and young people diagnosed with cancer survive, but they face unique health care needs because of late effects brought on by cancer or its treatment,” said Dr. Lai. “We hope that further research can investigate how to minimize the long-term effects of cancer therapies.” 

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