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
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
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
Children who have had cancer and their families are at risk of post-traumatic
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
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