Late Effects of Cancer Treatment
When your child has just been diagnosed with cancer, your immediate focus is helping your child receive whatever treatment he or she needs to give him or her the greatest possible chance of long-term survival. Unfortunately, many treatments available today for childhood cancer continue to rely on protocols that have proven successful in treating adult cancers, but which can prove highly toxic for the small, still developing bodies of children. Therefore, when facing a treatment protocol, it is critical for parents to be cognizant of both the short- and long-term side effects of that treatment, and the potential for so-called “late term effects” that may impact your child for the rest of his or her life.
What are “late term effects”?
The good news is that there have been tremendous advancements in the treatment procedures for many forms of childhood cancer, and five-year survival rates for some types of cancer have risen dramatically in recent years. However, both chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the two most common forms of treatment, involve intensive levels of both medication and energy that can target healthy cells in addition to killing cancerous cells. Unfortunately, these treatments may, and often do, cause severe health-related problems later on. These are called “late term effects”. While helping your child cope with the short-term and often extremely difficult side effects during or immediately after treatment often takes first priority, it is important to be aware of the types of health problems that may not develop for months or even years. And as the survival rate continues to improve, but treatment still relies on smaller dosages of adult protocols, more and more children will suffer from “late term effects” throughout the remainder of their lives.
Treating childhood cancer requires an extremely specialized approach from a qualified team of experts, but continuing specialized care well beyond the original treatment to anticipate and mitigate any late effects is equally important. Late term effects can impact multiple internal structures or organs, and can range from very mild to extremely severe. Doctors should insist upon cautious and active follow-ups after the completion of cancer treatment so that they can watch out for and treat late effects as quickly as possible. The schedule for follow-up will be dependent on several factors like the type of treatment used, the form of cancer the child had been diagnosed with, and the risks associated with such treatments.
Which type of patients are at a greater risk?
Each child who is diagnosed with cancer gets a unique cancer treatment based on their anatomy, medical history, and type and stage of the disease; in fact, childhood cancer requires a significantly more individualized and specialized approach than adult cancers. In most cases, late effects will be as unique as the cancer and form of treatment. While the risk of late term effects is difficult to predict, some of the other factors that may affect the risk for late effects are:
- Overall health condition of the child before the cancer.
- The age of the child when treatment was provided to him or her.
- The form of childhood cancer the child.
- The organ where cancer was detected.
- The genetic makeup of the child i.e. whether there is any inherited risk for specific health problems.
The American Child Cancer Organization is dedicated to the ongoing fight against childhood cancer and late term effects. In addition to offering ongoing support for children and families engaged in this critical battle, the ACCO is at the forefront of the fight to develop new and better treatment protocols designed to safeguard the current–and future–lives of childhood cancer victims. From advocating for additional government funding to providing insight into ongoing clinical trials, the ACCO is dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancer so no child has to live with its long term impacts again.