A national study reveals that for childhood cancer survivors, risk factors associated with lifestyle, particularly hypertension, dramatically increase the likelihood of developing serious heart problems as adults. The study was conducted by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) is one of the first to focus on how hypertension, diabetes, obesity and elevated blood lipids contribute to cardiovascular disease in childhood cancer survivors. The research concentrated on risk factors that can often be modified with diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. The federally funded CCSS follows survivors of childhood cancer treated at 26 medical centers in the U.S. and Canada. St. Jude is its coordinating center.
The risk was greatest for survivors whose cancer treatment had included therapies associated with heart damage. The findings suggest that risk factors linked to lifestyle, particularly hypertension, intensify the impact of those childhood cancer treatments and accelerate development of heart disease.
The findings raise hope that prevention or treatment of such risk factors might help reduce heart-related death and disability among the nation's growing population of childhood cancer survivors. For survivors, treatment-related heart disease is a leading cause of non-cancer death and disability.
The results reinforce the importance of survivors receiving annual medical screenings to check blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and other health indicators, said the study's first and corresponding author Greg Armstrong, M.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control. Screenings have a track record of reducing heart disease in the general population and are recommended for childhood cancer survivors. "For doctors who are caring for survivors, the key message from this study is that aggressive management of hypertension is especially important for this population," Armstrong said.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 395,000 survivors of childhood cancer. With overall pediatric cancer survival rates now 80 percent, the number of survivors will continue to grow.
The study included 10,724 childhood cancer survivors, half younger than 34 years old and 3,159 siblings whose average age was 36 and who had not been diagnosed with childhood cancer. The survivors were all at least five years from their cancer diagnosis and half had survived for more than 25 years.