Approximately one in every 350 individuals living in the United States develops a cancer before the age of 20. In the 1940s and 1950s, few children survived cancer. In the 1960s however, researchers discovered ways to design therapies using combinations of chemotherapy drugs and combinations of different treatment modalities (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery). These new approaches resulted in increasing numbers of patients experiencing sustained remission and cures.
With current therapies, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer can be expected to be long-term survivors. As a result, there now exists for the first time a large and rapidly growing population of individuals who have been cured of childhood cancer, and who have survived years, even decades, from the time they were treated. Unfortunately, however, as a consequence of their disease and treatment these long-term survivors now face significant, largely uncharacterized, risks to their health and well-being, which they must deal with for the remainder of their lives.
Thus, the population of childhood cancer survivors presents researchers with both an opportunity and an obligation:
- The opportunity to gain new knowledge about the long-term effects of cancer and therapy, knowledge that can be used to help design treatment protocols and intervention strategies that will increase survival and minimize harmful health effects.
- The obligation to educate survivors about the potential impacts of cancer diagnosis and treatment on their health, and to provide follow-up care, for example, by creating and implementing programs for the prevention and early detection of late effects.