Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., has devoted her career not only to helping children survive cancer, but also giving them a safe bridge into adulthood.
The transition out of adolescence can be difficult for childhood cancer patients; survivors may still have to deal with lingering health issues while they struggle to get their own health insurance.
Smita Bhatia (Photo ©2007 Phillip Channing)
These are no small challenges, and Bhatia wants public policymakers to know about them — so they can change policy to help.
Bhatia, chair of the Division of Population Sciences, raised the issues before congressional staff members at a June 9 briefing on Capitol Hill that addressed ways to improve long-term care and quality of life for childhood cancer survivors. The briefing was co-sponsored by City of Hope and the Alliance for Childhood
Cancer, in coordination with Reps. Hilda Solis and Mary Bono Mack, both from California.
A nationally recognized expert in pediatric cancer survivorship, Bhatia has chaired the Late Effects Committee of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) for the past eight years. COG is a national consortium that established current guidelines
for follow-up care for childhood cancer survivors.
As Bhatia explained, about one in every 540 adults between ages 20 and 39 is a long-term cancer survivor. As many as two-thirds of these survivors may be affected
by life-threatening or severe chronic health problems, she noted.
To help, Bhatia and fellow panelists advocated passage of HR 4450, The Pediatric,
Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Survivorship Research and Quality of Life Act.
Bhatia helped draft the bill, which was sponsored by Solis and Bono Mack. The bill
was based on recommendations in a 2003 Institute of Medicine report. Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton introduced a Senate version (S 2877) in April. Bill HR 4450 proposes these steps:
- New National Institutes of Health cancer survivorship programs, including grants to address health disparities in childhood cancer survivorship
- Clinics to provide comprehensive long-term follow-up services for survivors of
- Grants to improve childhood cancer survivors’ access to care
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cancer control programs to provide guidance to states and encourage them to improve systems of care for survivors of childhood cancer.
Even though many of today’s treatments are less toxic than before, the 12,000 pediatric patients diagnosed with cancer each year eventually may develop other health problems, so follow-up care for all these survivors is crucial, said Bhatia.
“In the past four decades we have made a tremendous amount of progress in childhood cancer survival,” Bhatia said. “However, two-thirds of these survivors suffer from delayedonset chronic health conditions, necessitating comprehensive, long-term follow-up by an experienced multidisciplinary team of healthcare