Protecting future lung health important for brain cancer survivors

Brain tumor survivors, compared to their siblings, are more likely to develop poor lung health.

Published: 2/1/14

Lung health

A team of LTFU researchers recently completed a study of lung health in adult survivors of childhood brain tumors. They compared brain tumor survivors to siblings who had not been diagnosed with cancer. The good news is that the majority of survivors report good lung health.  But, compared to siblings, brain tumor survivors are more likely to report conditions like asthma, emphysema, and chronic cough. 

The team also found that radiation to the spine was linked to long-term changes in the chest wall and spine bones that might affect breathing. They concluded that brain cancer survivors who received radiation to the spine should have their lung health monitored.

The Children’s Oncology Group Survivorship Guidelines recommend that all survivors who received treatments that can affect lung health (see below to see if this includes you) should have lung function tests done at least one time (two years or more after completing cancer treatment) to find out if there are any problems.  

In addition to spinal radiation the following treatments can affect lung health:

  • Any radiation that includes the chest, including total body irradiation (TBI)
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs:
    • Bleomycin
    • Carmustine (also known as BCNU)
    • Lomustine (also known as CCNU)
    • Busulfan
  • Surgery to the chest or lungs
  • Bone marrow transplant that leads to chronic graft-versus-host disease

Survivors at risk of lung problems should have a yearly medical check-up and a yearly flu shot. They should also talk to their doctor about being vaccinated against pneumonia.

If you’re at risk of lung problems because of treatments you received, please take steps to protect your health:

  • Try to be as physically active as you can throughout the day.
  • Avoid inhaled drugs like marijuana.
  • Avoid breathing toxic fumes from chemicals, solvents, and paints.
  • Not smoking is the most important thing you can do to keep your lungs healthy. If you do smoke, please talk to your doctor about ways to quit.  Many resources to help smokers quit are available online at:


Pulmonary outcomes in survivors of childhood central nervous system malignancies: a report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.  Huang TT, Chen Y, Dietz AC, Yasui Y, Donaldson SS, Stokes DC, Stovall M, Leisenring WM, Sklar CA, Diller LR, Mertens AC, Armstrong GT, Green DM, Robison LL, Ness KK. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2014 Feb;61(2):319-25.