Study Reinforces Need to Monitor Childhood Cancer Survivors

April 21, 2014
Lauren M. Green

Adult survivors of childhood cancer face significant health problems as they age and are five times more likely than their siblings to develop new cancers, heart, and other serious health conditions beyond the age of 35 years

Adult survivors of childhood cancer face significant health problems as they age and are five times more likely than their siblings to develop new cancers, heart, and other serious health conditions beyond the age of 35 years, according to the latest findings from a large study of childhood cancer survivors led by researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

The federally funded Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) found that the health gap between survivors and their siblings widens with age. Survivors who were 20 to 34 years old were 3.8 times more likely than siblings of the same age to have experienced severe, disabling, life-threatening, or fatal health conditions. By age 35 and beyond, however, survivors were at five-fold greater risk. The study involved 14,359 adult survivors who were treated for a variety of pediatric cancers at one of 26 US and Canadian medical centers. The research also included 4301 siblings. For this study, CCSS investigators focused on 5604 survivors who had aged beyond 35 years. The results provide the broadest snapshot yet of how the first generation of childhood cancer survivors is faring as they age. The oldest survivors in this study were in their 50s.

By age 50 years, more than half of childhood cancer survivors had experienced a life-altering health problem, compared with less than 20% of sameaged siblings. More than 22% of survivors had at least two serious health problems and about 10% The problems included new cancers as well as diseases of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and hormones.

“Survivors remain at risk for serious health problems into their 40s and 50s, decades after they have completed treatment for childhood cancer,” said first and corresponding author Gregory Armstrong, MD, an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control.

“In fact, for survivors, the risk of illness and death increases significantly beyond the age of 35. Their siblings don’t share these same risks.”

The study was published in the March 17 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.