Childhood cancer survivors experience chronic health problems, Feinberg study finds

Rebecca Savransky, Design Editor

A majority of children who have survived childhood cancer for five or more years following their diagnosis live with chronic health problems related to their treatment, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published last week.

The study found that although there were about 400,000 childhood cancer survivors in 2011 — nearly 60,000 more survivors than in 2005 — about 70 percent of the childhood survivors live with a mild or moderate chronic condition and 32 percent with a severe, disabling or life-threatening condition.

“We’ve been able to increase the number of survivors of pediatric cancer, but simply curing their disease isn’t enough,” said lead author Siobhan Phillips, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, in a news release. “We need a more coordinated approach to their care to help prevent or delay some of these chronic health problems that affect the quality of their lives. We want them to thrive, not simply survive.”

About 35 percent of survivors, ages 20 to 49, had neurocognitive dysfunction and 13 to 17 percent of those had self-reported functional impairment, activity limitations, impaired mental health, pain or anxiety/fear, according to the study’s findings.

Phillips said childhood cancer survivors should have health care providers who know about the increased risk of chronic health problems.

“These facts should challenge all of us in the field not to be content simply with improving life span, but to dedicate the future of this field to improving the ‘health span’ of our survivors,” said Dr. Greg Armstrong, principal investigator of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and a pediatrician at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in the release.

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