Young adults who survived childhood cancer are more likely than their peers to be frail.
This is according to a St. Jude Children's Research Hospital study, which reported the condition is more common among female survivors than women decades older. The research appears in the November 18 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology
Researchers also found that frail health was associated with a greater risk for adult childhood cancer survivors of death and chronic disease. Being frail was defined by the presence of at least three of the following - weakness, self-reported exhaustion, physical inactivity, low muscle mass and slow walking speed. In the general population, it is most commonly associated with advancing age.
In this study of 1,922 childhood cancer survivors, 13.1 percent of women and 2.7 percent of men qualified as frail despite having an average age of less than 34 years old. In a comparison group of 341 young adults with an average age of 29 years old and no history of childhood cancer, none qualified as frail. Nationally, an estimated 9.6 percent of women age 65 and older and 5.2 percent of men in the same age group meet the definition. The unexpectedly high prevalence of frailty among childhood cancer survivors suggests accelerated aging, researchers said.
After adjusting for existing chronic health problems, researchers calculated that frail childhood cancer survivors were 2.6 times more likely to die than their non-frail counterparts. The risk was highest for frail male survivors, who were at a six-fold increased risk of death compared to male survivors who were not frail. Frail survivors were also more than twice as likely as survivors who were not frail to develop additional chronic health problems.
"There are steps survivors can take to reduce their risk and improve their fitness," said the study's first and corresponding author Kirsten Ness, Ph.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control. Exercise can reverse frailty in the elderly, and Ness said this study reinforces the need for survivors to work with their health care providers to become more fit.