What Childhood Cancer Survivors Need to Know

It’s tempting to celebrate the successful treatment of childhood cancer and never look back. An expert at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s shares why survivors need ongoing specialized care.

As treatment for childhood cancer ends, parents look forward to when they can breathe a sigh of relief. But their journey isn’t over.

More than 70% of childhood cancer patients are treated effectively and survive, according to information from Unfortunately, treatments can often leave children with long-term health conditions. According to experts, ongoing care with a team of specialists is crucial for childhood cancer survivors to monitor for late effects and maximize quality of life.

Knowing the risks

If your child is being treated for childhood cancer, there are many things to know about their ongoing medical care.

The National Cancer Institute urges you to get a written copy of your child’s treatment summary and survivorship care plan, which it defines as a detailed summary of treatment and follow-up care recommendations based on the type of cancer and treatment received. This plan may even include information about the emotional, social, legal and financial needs of your child, as well as referrals to specialists.

“For many years after treatment, it is very important that children have regular follow-up exams with the cancer care team,” according to the American Cancer Society. Even though the risk of cancer returning decreases as time goes on, these visits are still important because some side effects of treatment may show up years later, says cancer.org.

tara-henderson-md-mph
Tara Henderson, MD, MPH, Director of the UChicago Medicine Childhood Cancer Survivors Center. Photo credit: UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s

For example, female childhood cancer survivors are at least six times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, even if they didn’t receive radiation treatments to their chest. For those who did receive chest radiation, that chance is even higher, says Tara Henderson, MD, MPH, Director of the UChicago Medicine Childhood Cancer Survivors Center and expert in the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric cancers.

Dr. Henderson and a team of researchers at UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s studied female cancer survivors who were diagnosed before the age of 21 and were then later diagnosed with breast cancer as adults.

“Our study found that childhood cancer survivors had only a slightly higher chance of dying from breast cancer compared to the control group,” says Dr. Henderson. Unfortunately, the study also showed that childhood cancer survivors were more likely to die from other subsequent cancers as well as heart and lung diseases due to the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on their developing organs.

Specialized care

As your child grows to adulthood, it’s important that they have open communication with their primary care physicians, who are not always aware of the ongoing risks.

This is the reason the University of Chicago Medicine Childhood Cancer Survivors Center was established. “This is an integrated program for pediatric and adult survivors of childhood cancer aimed at the prevention and treatment of long-term issues associated with cancer therapy,” according to the center’s site.

In addition to screening for breast cancer, the program also screens for common endocrine and cardiac risks after cancer therapy. This can include thyroid function for patients who received radiation to the neck, ultrasound for early signs of heart disease, as well as screening for risk of kidney dysfunction.

The goal is education for survivors and their families about health issues related to the cancer treatment they received.

“We want survivors to stay engaged throughout their lifetimes and know that once they are cured, they still need to know their risks,” explains Dr. Henderson. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they will have issues, but we want them to be empowered with information and not get lost in follow-up.”

Expertise brought to you by UChicago Medicine Comer Children’s. Learn more at ComerChildrens.org.

 

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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