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From Childhood To Adulthood: Serious Health Issues Faced By Cancer Survivors

In a startling revelation, researchers have warned that those who have survived childhood cancer will probably experience physical and mental health challenges later in life. The worst part is that 95% of them have been found to develop a “significant health problem” related to their cancer or treatment by the time they reach the age of 45.

In the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers reviewed 73 studies. Out of them, 39 were cohort studies that followed patients over time. While sharing their findings, the researchers said that 15,000 children and adolescents up to the age of 19 are diagnosed with cancer every year and 85 percent of children now live five years or more after they are diagnosed with the disease.

Childhood Cancer Impact On Adult Health.

However, according to the American Cancer Society, there has been a tremendous increase in the count of survivors as the 5-year survival rate in the mid-1970s hovered around a mere 58%.

Cancer Impact On Adult Health

A wide range of concerns experienced by the cancer survivors were documented as part of the study. These include subsequent hormone issues, reproductive health challenges, cognitive impairment, problems associated with muscles and bones, and others.

The researchers say that among childhood cancer survivors, one-third will face “severe or potentially life-threatening chronic health problems.” The most common among them were endocrine disorders, subsequent neoplasms (abnormal growths), and cardiovascular disease.

Among the survivors, new cancers were found in those parts of the body where they received radiation in the past. The most concerning among these, according to the researchers were radiation fields on the chest, neck, brain, and abdomen or pelvis. People who had been exposed to higher doses of radiation had a higher risk and they faced several health issues such as breast cancer, central nervous system tumors, and basal cell carcinoma.

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According to the researchers, the risk also varies depending on the type of childhood cancer. The people who fall in the highest risk category include those diagnosed with a brain tumor, the ones who underwent cranial irradiation, or those treated with allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation – a method of treatment in which a healthy donor donates stem cells to a sick recipient. 

Mental health was another concern as the depression rates range between 2.3 to 40.8 percent. It is to be noted that the nationwide average stands at a meager 9.6 percent. Suicide risk was found to be higher among people who survived cancer in their childhood days and those who are 28 years and above faced the highest risk. The risk factor of death by suicide in adults who survived childhood cancer was 1.4 times higher than their counterparts who weren’t sick as children.

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In light of the ongoing risk, the researchers recommend survivors should be provided lifelong care focused on health promotion and early diagnosis of potential complications from cancer treatment.

This is not the first time that researchers have come up with alarming findings on serious health issues faced by adults who survived cancer in their childhood. Back in 2017, a study conducted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee revealed that more than one in 12 childhood cancer survivor adults may have undiagnosed high blood pressure. The reason attributed to the high blood pressure, or hypertension was the heart damage caused due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

Along similar lines, a study conducted by Northwestern Medicine study in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2015 found that adults who survived childhood cancer suffered from mental impairment, anxiety, pain, and physical limitations that affected their daily living.

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