Learning what can be done to improve survivors' long-term health

The majority of cancer survivors have a mild to moderate chronic health condition related to their treatment.

Published: 4/1/2015

Improving cancer survivors' long-term health

Findings from the LTFU study show that the majority of childhood cancer survivors in the U.S. face health problems related to their treatment. As of 2011, there were nearly 400,000 childhood cancer survivors in the U.S., 60,000 more than in 2005. Unfortunately, many of those who have survived 5 or more years after diagnosis are living with chronic disease, pain, anxiety, mental impairment, and/or physical limitations that affect daily living.

We found that about 70 percent of survivors had a mild or moderate chronic health condition, and about 32 percent had a severe, disabling, or life-threatening condition. Thirty-five percent of those between the ages of 20 and 49 had problems with memory, thinking, and/or judgment.  And 13-17 percent of those in this age group reported activity limitations, emotional health problems, pain, or fear/anxiety. 

While pediatric oncologists work to improve cancer treatments to reduce side effects for future patients, today’s survivors can take steps to maintain and even improve their health. The most important things survivors can do are to:

  • Stay up-to-date with all recommended risk-based health screenings
  • Practice healthy behaviors
  • Seek out healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about their increased risk of chronic health problems

Dedicated survivorship clinics where survivors are cared for by coordinated teams of specialty providers are the ideal, and they are becoming more common. However, access to this type of care needs to be expanded.  As the study’s lead author, Dr. Siobhan Phillips, says, “We need a more coordinated approach to care to help prevent or delay some of the chronic health problems that affect the quality of survivors’ lives.”

Dr. Greg Armstrong, the leader of the Long-Term Follow-Up Study, adds, “These findings challenge us as doctors not to be content simply with improving lifespan, but to be dedicated to improving the ‘health span’ of our survivors.”

The results of this study were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Citation

Survivors of childhood cancer in the United States: prevalence and burden of morbidity. Phillips SM, Padgett LS, Leisenring WM, Stratton KK, Bishop K, Krull KR, Alfano CM, Gibson TM, de Moor JS, Hartigan DB, Armstrong GT, Robison LL, Rowland JH, Oeffinger KC, Mariotto AB. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015 Apr;24(4):653-63.