As more and more people diagnosed with cancer in childhood or adolescence became long-term survivors, researchers took on an important new challenge: to design therapies that cure cancer while reducing survivors’ risk of severe side effects and premature death. Did their efforts succeed?
Researchers led by LTFU Study principal investigator Dr. Greg Armstrong conducted a study that included participants who were treated across three decades: 9,000 survivors who were diagnosed in the 1970s, 13,000 survivors from the 1980s, and 11,000 from the 1990s. The research team found that, compared to the group from the 1970s those from the 1990s had only about half the risk of dying from any cause within 15 years of diagnosis. This increase in overall survival was primarily due to fewer survivors dying from recurrence or progression of the original cancer.
The 1990s group were also much less likely to die from the most common treatment-related side effects: second cancers, heart disease, and lung disease. The lower death rates from late treatment effects were most notable among survivors of Wilms tumor, Hodgkin lymphoma, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The research team found that higher survival rates occurred in synch with efforts to reduce the types and strength of therapies, such as radiation and anthracycline chemotherapy drugs, that have been linked to late effects. Dr. Armstrong suggested that improvements in general medical care and in the use and quality of health screening tests likely also contributed to participants’ increased survival.
“Fifty years ago, only one in five children would survive cancer, and today over 80% are alive 5 years after diagnosis. Yet, these survivors still grow up with an increased risk of dying from the effects of treatment, like heart disease and second cancers. Now, we’ve not only helped more children survive their primary cancer, but we’ve also extended their overall lifespan, by reducing the overall toxicity of treatment in more modern eras,” Dr. Armstrong said.
What does this mean for you?
This study is important because it confirms that the newer, less toxic therapies are able to cure childhood cancer patients while also reducing their risk of death from late effects. In fact, survival rates have increased decade by decade as new treatments became available. Many LTFU Study participants who were treated in more recent years have benefitted from this trend. Our participants can be proud to have contributed to the research that led to these improved therapies. We thank you for your commitment to the LTFU Study!
LTFU Study Research Results: Reduction in late mortality. Armstrong GT, Chen Y, Yasui Y, et al. Reduction in late mortality among 5-year survivors of childhood cancer. N Engl J Med. 2016, 374(9): 833–842.