SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Almost 10 thousand children in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Fifty years ago, just five percent of them would survive five years. Today, that number is 85 percent. However, the battle against childhood cancer doesn’t end when the treatment is over. The effects from surgeries, chemo and radiation can sometimes last a lifetime. These survivors are also at an increased risk for other cancers and diseases later in life. Now, a movement is on to not only help these children survive into adulthood, but also live a very long and healthy life.
Gertie, Michelle and Jaynalee—all diagnosed with cancer as kids.
Jaynalee Becerril, Childhood Cancer Survivor, says, “At first, you cry a lot, like a lot, like, a bucket full, like, two million gallons full.”
And all three are survivors.
Douglas Fair, MD, Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist at University of Utah Health/Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital explains, “I think the challenge that we have is that, well over three quarters, or 75 percent, of all childhood cancer survivors will have a late effect or a problem that was caused by their cancer.”
The number one risk — cardiovascular disease and the risk of secondary cancers is higher.
Doctor Fair says, “Certain chemotherapies will put you at risk for different leukemias. Certain chemotherapies will put you at risk for other carcinomas or adult type cancers.”
A National Cancer Institute study also found an increased risk of breast cancer after treatment with high-dose chest radiation. The same with thyroid cancer after neck radiation and brain tumors after radiation treatment to the head. Pediatric Oncologist Douglas Fair is leading the survivorship clinic that is a new model of care that uses a team to create individualized lifelong care plans.
Doctor Fair explains, “On average, less than 25 percent of childhood cancer survivors were getting the necessary screening for those four, very serious, deadly conditions. We have a lot to do here in better serving our childhood cancer survivors in this country.”
Doctor Fair’s team also creates a survivorship care plan. They create a document about the patient’s diagnosis, care, and then tailor the care based on the risk of what therapy they received.
Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.
THE NEXT CHAPTER: SURVIVING AND THRIVING AFTER CHILDHOOD CANCER
BACKGROUND: One in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20 years old. With advancements in therapies and medicine, cancer treatments are saving more than 80 percent of children’s lives but the cancer can still lead to health issues down the road. While adult cancers are often caused by environmental factors, such as smoking and sun exposure, that is not the same as childhood cancers. Childhood cancers are often caused by mutations or “spelling mistakes” in their DNA, and most are not caused by inherited DNA changes. Childhood cancers do not have any recommended preventative screenings to catch the disease early, therefore, 80 percent of childhood cancer patients are diagnosed in a late stage of the disease. Every year, an estimated 300,000 plus new cases of cancer affect children worldwide.
SURVIVING CHILDHOOD CANCER: After cancer treatments, many children face learning problems, growth problems and developmental delays that can result from years of too-harsh treatments on small, growing bodies. Some will face psychosocial issues when they go back to school, and some will have mental health problems like depression, anxiety and even PTSD from the trauma. And many will live with a constant, nagging fear that the cancer will return. Two out of three childhood cancer survivors are left with a chronic illness from their treatment. The remaining third are the lucky ones, but can still face physical, mental, and emotional challenges in the years after treatment ends. Many will have late effects that follow them well into adulthood, including fertility problems, secondary cancers, and increased risk of other health problems such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
NEW RESEARCH IN GENETICS AND CHILDHOOD CANCER: Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have identified a genetic explanation for why a small proportion of survivors are more likely to develop second cancers and why they may be more severe or deadly. The scientists had previously identified that survivors with pathogenic variants in one of 60 cancer predisposition genes, or 127 DNA damage repair genes, were more likely to experience a second cancer. The current study builds on these findings to show a direct connection between cancer predisposition variants and increased second cancer-related mortality. “Our study pinpoints that clinical genetic testing to screen for and identify if survivors are carriers of these pathogenic variants could lead to early interventions for those at higher risk to develop deadly second cancers, potentially saving their lives,” said senior corresponding author Zhaoming Wang, Ph.D., St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control.
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