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Childhood Cancer Survivors Face Unknown Health Future

By KJ Mullins     Apr 10, 2008 in Health
The Canadian Cancer Society says that more children are surviving cancer today than in the past but that doesn't mean the battle is over for them.
82 percent of Canadian children have survived cancer, living at least five years after the date of their diagnosis. That figure is an 11% increase from 15 years ago.
This year about 850 kids in Canada will be diagnosed with childhood cancer with about 135 dying from the disease.
"We know that childhood cancer, fortunately, is a rare disease, but it is the leading cause of disease-related death in children over one month, second only to accidents," Heather Logan, the society's director of cancer control policy, told a news conference.
"When you look at childhood survival ... it shows us the advances we have been able to make," said Logan, noting that from 1985 to 1988, 71 out of every 100 Canadian children with cancer survived five years. That number rose to 82 in every 100 kids diagnosed between 1999 and 2003.
"And that's 11 more faces that are alive now that wouldn't have survived the disease more than 15 years ago."
The battle against cancer though doesn't go away after five years. Many childhood survivors of the disease develop "late-effect" problems with their health that can be life-threatening.
According to oncologist Dr. Paul Grundy kids who survive malignancies have more risk for health problems later in life, both mentally and physically.
The brain changes in the young who have had chemotherapy and radiation can cause learning disabilities. Delayed puberty, infertility and organ damage also factor into the cost of the life saving drugs.
There are side-effects of treatment that may not even occur for up to 20 years after the therapy," Grundy explained.
"We're very concerned about the development of second cancers, so not a relapse or recurrence of their original disease, but the development of an entirely new cancer, probably in large part caused by the original cancer chemotherapy or radiation," he said.
"These are the physical ones. We also have to be concerned about various psychological or emotional issues related to cancer survivorship."
Grundy says that for some childhood cancers doctors have been able to reduce the amount of chemo and radiation. It's hopeful that this will help later in life. But not all cancers will allow for that. To cure one must use a heavy duty arsenal of drugs.
At this time we don't know how those who were cured will be doing 50 years for now. Today's cancer survivors will be the test subjects on the long term challenges of having childhood cancer.
With each year we will see more and more children walk out of the hospital to live life after cancer. In time doctors may be able to find ways to reverse the lasting effects of the drugs that allow for that to happen reducing the chance of side effects years later.
More about Childhood Cancer, Adult side effects, Chemo