The treatment of cancer may cause health problems for childhood cancer survivors months or years after successful treatment has ended. Cancer treatments may harm the body's organs, tissues, or bones and cause health problems later in life. These health problems are called late effects.
Treatments that may cause late effects include the following:
Doctors are studying the late effects caused by cancer treatment. They are working to improve cancer treatments and stop or lessen late effects. While most late effects are not life-threatening, they may cause serious problems that affect health and quality of life.
Late effects in childhood cancer survivors may affect the following:
Many childhood cancer survivors will have late effects. The risk of late effects depends on factors related to the tumor, treatment, and patient. These include the following:
New treatments for childhood cancer have decreased the number of deaths from the primary cancer. Because childhood cancer survivors are living longer, they are having more late effects after cancer treatment. Survivors may not live as long as people who did not have cancer. The most common causes of death in childhood cancer survivors are:
Regular follow-up by health professionals who are trained to find and treat late effects is important for the long-term health of childhood cancer survivors. Follow-up care will be different for each person who has been treated for cancer. The type of care will depend on the type of cancer, the type of treatment, genetic factors, and the person's general health and health habits. Follow-up care includes checking for signs and symptoms of late effects and health education on how to prevent or lessen late effects.
It is important that childhood cancer survivors have an exam at least once a year. The exams should be done by a health professional who knows the survivor's risk for late effects and can recognize the early signs of late effects. Blood and imaging tests may also be done.
Long-term follow-up may improve the health and quality of life for cancer survivors. It also helps doctors study the late effects of cancer treatments so that safer therapies for newly diagnosed children may be developed.
The quality of life for cancer survivors may be improved by behaviors that promote health and well-being. These include a healthy diet, exercise, and regular medical and dental checkups. These self-care behaviors are especially important for cancer survivors because of their risk of health problems related to treatment. Healthy behaviors may make late effects less severe and lower the risk of other diseases.
Avoiding behaviors that are damaging to health is also important. Smoking, excess alcohol use, illegal drug use, being exposed to sunlight, or not being physically active may worsen organ damage related to treatment and may increase the risk of second cancers.
CancerHelp Online® is a patient education program of The CancerHelp Institute, official Content Distribution Partner of the National Cancer Institute.