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Survivors of childhood cancer have more health problems as adults

May 24, 2010 | 12:54 pm

Survivors of childhood cancer are already known to have an above-average number of problems as adults, ranging from second cancers, heart problems and neurodevelopmental disorders to post-traumatic stress disorder. Most findings about the effects of survival have been based on the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, which examined more than 10,000 survivors at 26 clinical centers. But treatment at the academic centers in that study may have been better than — or at least different than — the treatment received in communities. Dr. Emily Dowling and her colleagues at the National Cancer Institute undertook the new study to determine what happens to children treated at those institutions.

Treatment of childhood cancer has been an amazing success story, with survival rates climbing from only about 25% in the 1970s to more than 80% today. In 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, an estimated 329,000 survivors of childhood cancer were living in the United States

Dowling and her colleagues studied recent participants in the National Health Interview Survey, which annually collects data on many different health topics through personal household interviews. They identified 410 adult survivors of childhood cancer and compared them with 294,641 comparable adults who had never had cancer. The researchers reported Monday in the journal Cancer that the cancer survivors were more likely to report their health status as only fair or poor (24.3% versus 10.9%), having any health limitations of any sort (12.9% versus 3.4%), being unable to work due to health problems (20.9% versus 6.3%) and being limited in the kind or amount of work they could do because of health problems (30.9% versus 10.6%).  The disparities were greatest in the groups in the first four years after treatment and in the period beginning 30 years after treatment. The survivors reported missing an average of 69.3 days of work in the preceding year because of health problems.

"Our study suggests that adult survivors of childhood cancer deserve special medical attention and may benefit from interventions to improve their health and productivity," Dowling said in a statement.

— Thomas H. Maugh II