Having had and then survived cancer during adolescence can lead to physical, mental, and social problems even decades later, according to a large study. Survivors appear to be less likely to have college degrees, work full time, be married, or live independently and appear to have higher rates of depression and anxiety. They may also have issues with brain function, such as memory and being able to efficiently perform tasks.
Researchers looked at information from nearly 2,600 people who had been diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 11 and 21 and who were now in their thirties or older. They also surveyed the brothers and sisters of these survivors to serve as a control group. This study is part of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study that followed children and teens who were diagnosed with cancer between 1970 and 1986.
Cancer survivors were about 50% more likely than their siblings to say they had depression and twice as likely to say they had anxiety issues. They also said they had more problems with memory and regulating their emotions.
The long-term effects of cancer treatment on children have been studied a lot, but there has been less research into long-term effects in teens. The researchers say that some of the social problems faced by teen survivors later in life may be due to changes in the brain from cancer treatments. But adolescence is the time in life when there are huge changes in social and emotional development. In addition to the physical effects of treatment, having cancer interferes with school, social activities, and developing relationships.
This study evaluated people who were treated for cancer 20 or more years ago. Cancer treatment has changed over time and these findings may not be applicable to current patients.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.