Most children who undergo cancer treatment will develop one or more chronic health problems later in life due to the illness and complications from its treatment, a study released Tuesday suggested.
Dutch researchers who conducted a long-term study of more than 1,300 childhood cancer survivors found that 75 percent went on to develop one or more chronic health conditions by the time they reached their mid 20s, or early 30s at the latest.
Close to 25 percent had multiple health problems by that point, and some 40 percent had suffered at least one severe, life-threatening, or disabling event or condition.
The most serious repercussions of their early struggles with cancer and its treatment with chemicals, radiation and surgery included secondary cancers, obesity, infertility, neurological problems, and learning, behavioural and hormonal disorders.
The investigators found that children who had been treated for bone tumours had the most health problems to contend with down the road - far more than kids who beat leukemia or Wilms tumour (a tumor of the kidney).
Their analysis also showed that radiotherapy, as a stand-alone treatment, was associated with a much higher disease burden later in life than either stand-alone chemo or drug therapy or stand-alone surgery.
More than half the children in the study who underwent radiation treatment had a high or severe burden of illness by the time they were young adults, compared to 25 percent of patients who had surgery, and 15 percent of kids who got medication only.
That finding may reflect that fact that radiation damages healthy tissue in addition to zapping cancer cells, which increases the risk for secondary cancers, according to the lead author of the paper, Huib Caron, a professor of pediatric oncology at Emma Children's Hospital in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Ultimately, the findings show that early, life-saving interventions come at a price - one that can take a heavy toll on the survivors' quality of life, and reduce their life expectancy.
The results emphasise the need for ongoing monitoring of young cancer patients so subsequent problems can be diagnosed and treated early, the authors said.
The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.