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Mercy Women's Care at St. Anne
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Toledo, OH 43608

Childhood Cancer-The News is Good, But there's a Catch


Treatment for childhood cancer today is a big success story. Almost 75 percent of children who are diagnosed with cancer are now cured. This is the kind of hope that parents can hold on to when they hear their child has cancer.

Along with this good news comes a warning: treatment for childhood cancer can have long-term effects years and years after the cancer is cured. Here are some statistics:

  • Girls who had Hodgkin's disease and received radiation to the chest as children or adolescents are 15 to 20 times more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Learning disabilities are more common in children who had chemotherapy or radiation to the brain.
  • Heart disease is more common in later years among people who had high-dose chest radiation or certain types of chemotherapy (anthracylines) as children
  • There's an increased risk of second cancers related to chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Children who have had cancer and their families are at risk of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
  • Children who received blood transfusions before 1993 are at increased risk of hepatitis C.

    Additional late effects of cancer treatment can include thyroid problems, bone problems and infertility.

    The main reason children are at risk for these serious health consequences is that cancer treatment, by necessity, is toxic. It has to be this way in order to fight the cancer. But children's bodies and minds are still developing, and that's why the treatment can have serious long-term effects later in life.

    Because there are more children who survive cancer now, there is an increased need for doctors who understand the late effects of cancer treatment. In fact, the late effects of cancer is an evolving field of study.

    Parents whose child has had cancer will want to look for the following in the doctor who takes care of their child when treatment and follow-up are over:

  • A review of the treatments your child has received
  • Counseling and education regarding the specific late-effect risks (if any) of your child's treatment
  • Diagnostic tests to look for heart disease, learning disabilities and other possible complications
  • Wellness educations that focuses on ways to prevent, if possible, the known late effects of treatment. This could include education on how to keep the heart healthy, how to keep bones strong, etc.
  • Psychosocial support that helps children and their families handle the emotions that come with having had cancer

    As a rule, parents may want to seek help for children who exhibit the following symptoms (symptoms should last for two weeks or more and interfere with the child's daily living)

  • Low energy level
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Increased irritability
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Becoming extremely upset when thinking about the cancer
  • Having physical reactions when thinking about the cancer (rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea)
  • Avoiding going to the doctor
  • Refusing to talk about the cancer

    Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation; Journal of Clinical Oncology, 1 July 2001; Ped Onc Resource Center
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