Chronic health conditions like heart or lung disease may impact survivors’ emotional health, memory, and thinking

But managing chronic conditions and making healthy lifestyle choices can help survivors stay sharp as they age

Published: 5/16/2018

Thought bubble

Some treatments for childhood cancer, such as brain radiation and steroids like prednisone, are “neurotoxic.” This means that they directly harm the brain and central nervous system and interfere with a person’s ability to do things like:

  • plan, organize, and carry-out activities (task efficiency)
  • stay in control of their emotional reactions
  • rely on their memory - especially short-term memory

A newly published study conducted by LTFU researchers led by Dr. Yin Ting Cheung of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has found that other types of cancer treatments may also affect survivors’ mental sharpness and emotional well-being. For example, commonly used cancer treatments like chest radiation and anthracycline chemotherapy drugs increase the risk of heart disease and chronic lung problems for survivors as they age. Other treatments can lead to hormonal imbalances, such as thyroid dysfunction, growth hormone deficiency, or early menopause. Many of these treatment-related conditions can interfere with thinking, memory, and emotional health by reducing oxygen or blood flow to the brain, increasing inflammation, or causing hormone deficiencies.

What does this mean for you?

It’s important for survivors to know about these findings because managing chronic health problems may help them improve their thinking, memory, and emotional health. “The effects of neurotoxic treatments like brain radiation can’t be changed,” the study authors note, “but the effects of chronic conditions can be reduced by good medical management and by practicing healthy behaviors.”

As with almost all health-related matters, eating a healthy diet, not over-eating, exercising on most days, and quitting smoking can help survivors stay mentally sharp as they age.


Cheung YT, Brinkman TM, et al. Chronic Health Conditions and Neurocognitive Function in Aging Survivors of Childhood Cancer: A Report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018 Apr 1; 110(4):411-419.