Stories about: late effects of cancer treatment

Heart disease in childhood cancer survivors: Helping keep their hearts healthy

Survivors of childhood cancers may walk around with treatment-related heart damage for decades without knowing it. Ming Hui Chen wants to help these survivors keep their hearts healthy. (qthomasbower/Flickr)

Our success at treating children with cancer has steadily improved in the 40 years since President Nixon announced the War on Cancer. At the time, 3 in 10 children survived a diagnosis of cancer; now upwards of 8 in 10 do. The U.S. alone is home to an estimated 328,000 childhood cancer survivors today.

But as these survivors age, they can experience late effects, long-term medical complications of the very treatments that saved their lives. In fact, 30 years out, survivors are at more risk of dying from treatment-related illness than from cancer recurrence.

Perhaps the most insidious late effect – and the leading cause of non-cancer death at the 30-year mark – is cardiovascular disease.

Treatment-related heart damage can take decades to appear. This long latency means that a woman treated for cancer at age 6 could face a heart attack when she’s 36. And she might never see it coming. “A survivor can walk around for years with minimal symptoms while their cardiovascular disease silently progresses,” says Ming Hui Chen, an adult cardiologist at Children’s Hospital Boston.

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Cancer treatment and fertility: Acting now to have children later

While many childhood cancers are readily curable, those cures can come at a cost to future fertility. Sara Barton and Richard Yu want to help lower that cost. (Wikimedia Commons)

With over 75 percent of children diagnosed with cancer surviving into adulthood, more and more parents ask questions about the quality of life survivors can expect in the future, including: Will my child be able to have children down the road?

They’re right to be concerned. The therapies that are so effective at saving children’s lives can themselves cause a host of problems that don’t manifest until years later. These late effects of cancer treatment include particularly harsh impacts on fertility.

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