According to the American Cancer Society, there are in excess of 15 million cancer survivors, in the US, of which approximately 419,000 were under 20 years of age when first diagnosed with cancer.
These figures are proof that medical advances in treating cancer are allowing people to live longer, but with this comes a warning that many of these treatments can lead to future health troubles, including second cancers, heart problems, infertility and fatigue.
A recent study published in the journal Cancer found that a large percentage of childhood cancer survivors are not sufficiently concerned about their future health risks.
The lack of concern is significant because some survivors may not engage in risk-reduction activities, such as recommended screening tests and healthy behaviours,” according to Todd Gibson, Ph.D., assistant member of the Epidemiology and Cancer Control Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and author of the study.

The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study included 15,620 survivors of childhood cancer and 3,991 siblings who were asked to complete questionnaires. The median age was 26 years and median time since diagnosis was 17 years.
When questioned about their levels of concern about later health and the possibility of developing cancer again, 31% of survivors were not concerned about future health and 40 % were not worried about developing cancer again – the figures were around the same for siblings.
Those who received high doses of radiation reported more concern, but still, 24% were not worried about their future health and 35% were not concerned with developing cancer again.
It was surprising to find that survivors and a comparison group of siblings were equally likely to report not being concerned about developing cancer,” Gibson said. “Even among survivors exposed to high doses of radiation, more than a third reported a lack of concern. More research is needed to understand how reported levels of concern influence the behaviours of survivors, but we found suggestive evidence that those who were not concerned about developing cancer were less likely to have had recommended screening tests.”
Gibson explained that survivors of childhood cancer have an increased risk for a range of health concerns, including an increased risk of developing a second cancer:
Every childhood cancer survivor’s situation is unique, and future health problems, or late effects, are based on a variety of factors for that individual, including the type of cancer diagnosis, the cancer treatments received and other variables.”
It is essential that survivors of childhood cancer, as with survivors of adult cancer, pay attention to their future health by being aware of the health risks associated with previous cancer treatments and by working with health care providers to follow established long-term follow-up care guidelines based on their specific cancer history.
This could easily be achieved by becoming involved in dedicated survivorship care programs in your area. If there are no such programs, this should be discussed with your oncology team or the social worker – try to get your local oncology team involved in helping you create such a group.
 

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