The number of people who survive having had cancer during their childhood or early adulthood has risen as treating pediatric cancers becomes more successful. But these survivors may face higher risks of hospitalizations and challenges with brain function later in life, according to two new studies.
One of the studies was conducted in Denmark and followed for at least 14 years more than 33,000 people who had had cancer as teens or young adults. This study found that cancer survivors were 38% more likely to be hospitalized than 228,000 similar people who had no history of cancer. They had twice the odds of hospitalizations for diseases of the blood and of organs that form blood. They were also 69% more likely to be hospitalized for infectious and parasitic diseases and 63% more likely to be hospitalized for malignant growths.
The long-term risks varied depending on the type of original tumor. Survivors of leukemia were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized as people with no history of cancer, while the odds were 93% higher after brain cancer and 87% higher after Hodgkin lymphoma.
The second study was smaller and was conducted in the United States and followed 80 survivors of osteosarcoma, the most common type of childhood bone cancer, for about 25 years. This study found they had more problems with reading, attention span, memory and other brain function than 39 similar people who had not had cancer. Cancer survivors lagged behind their peers in a variety of cognitive skills.
The researchers reported that the cognitive impairment was linked to current chronic health conditions rather than to previous use of high-doses of anticancer drug methotrexate. This result was surprising because methotrexate has been linked to long-term cognitive problems in survivors of other cancers.
These studies suggest that, even though advances in cancer treatment have greatly increased survival rates, doctors need to consider the long-term side effects of these treatments.
The two studies appeared in JAMA Oncology.