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Late Effects of Pediatric Cancer Treatments Explored by Oncology Specialists at CHAM

Sixty Percent of Pediatric Cancer Patients Experience Residual
Physical and Emotional Effects of Treatment into Adulthood

NEW YORK (May 31, 2013) – While 80 percent of the 13,500 American children diagnosed with cancer each year win the battle against the disease, they still must face residual psychological, emotional and physical effects of their treatment in the years and decades to come. On National Cancer Survivors Day, which is Sunday, June 2, the courage of those who have fought cancer will be celebrated at hospitals across the country. But there are other ongoing efforts underway with potential for more lasting impact on the lives of cancer survivors, including those diagnosed as children. Researchers at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) are studying these young cancer survivors in an effort to understand the challenges that can result from treatment and identify ways to address them.

“The field of pediatric oncology is producing a new population of survivors every day,” said Michael Roth, M.D., pediatric oncologist, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, CHAM.  “We need to understand what patients are experiencing and to provide them with the care they need.”

Montefiore established the Reassessment and Evaluation After Cancer Treatment (REACT) clinic in 2011 to study childhood cancer survivors over time.  Headed by Dr. Roth, the clinic currently sees about 200 cancer survivors – some as young as three and others as old as 50.  This number is expected to increase by nearly 30 percent this year alone. 

As part of an ongoing research study, the REACT team screens survivors for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety in an effort to determine when these mental health symptoms began and identify interventions that may provide relief. The team also is conducting a second study to assess sleep disorders in childhood cancer survivors.

“The psychological and emotional effects of cancer treatment vary widely and may not surface for many years. We know that about one in three pediatric cancer survivors will experience mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety,” Dr. Roth said. “These conditions can be attributed to a number of factors, including the treatment itself as well as the experience of having a life-threatening illness.”

Patients can come to the REACT clinic as early as two years after completing treatment.  The first step is to discuss and screen for possible side effects. Survivors are presented with a medical “passport” to document their history and next steps based on the assessments made in the clinic.

Survivorship clinics are a standard of care at the nation’s leading pediatric oncology programs, driven by results of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health that identified long-term effects on health that surgery, chemotherapy and radiation can have later in life, including:

• Children treated for leukemia are at increased risk for neurocognitive defects and poor bone health.
• Children who received radiation therapy for lymphoma are at a high risk for breast cancer.
• Radiation therapy and certain chemotherapy can cause cardiovascular disease.

“Our goal is not only to cure children with cancer, but also provide them with a high quality of life and a promising future,” said Dr. Roth. “Every survivor deserves to live a happy and healthy life after winning a battle against cancer. Our team is dedicated to learning as much as we can about identifying and treating problems early and improving care for these patients overall.”

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