A new study finds children who survive cancer have about twice the rate of educational and social problems compared to children without a history of cancer. The study finds children with brain tumors, neuroblastoma , or leukemia and children treated with cranial radiation therapy (CRT) are at greatest risk for educational difficulties and social isolation.
As therapies for childhood cancers have become more complex and aggressive, children have benefited with increased cure rates and longer survival. Increasingly, researchers are studying the long-term outcomes of these treatments and unearthing troubling findings for these children's development. Though studies are small and limited to leukemia's and central nervous system tumors, the findings suggest increased risk of some secondary cancers and decreased quality of life and psychosocial adjustment.
In the first large Canadian study, parents of 800 school age cancer survivors of and 923 age and gender matched cancer free subjects were studied with emphasis on the long-term effects of childhood cancer and its treatments on survivors' educational and social development.
The researchers found that survivors had more difficulties in school and suffered more often from social isolation. Academically, 46 percent of survivors reported academic problems compared to only 23 percent of controls. Compared to controls, cancer survivors more often repeated a grade, attended learning disability or special education programs.
Children with brain cancers, leukemia, and neuroblastoma and those treated with CRT or combined CRT and intrathecal methotrexate (IT MTX) were more likely to report educational difficulties.
Socially, cancer survivors reported no close friends and less often used friends as confidants. Children with brain tumors were more likely to report difficulties with friendships. Children with leukemia or neuroblastoma are also at greater risk for social adjustment difficulties, which has not been previously reported.
The above finding could be due to the physical and emotional trauma faced by cancer survivors as a result of a multitude of disease, treatment and situational factors.