Ask the Experts: Helping children thrive after cancer
April 11, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So
Although childhood cancers only make up 2 percent of all cancers, they are also among the most treatable. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the overall survival rate of childhood cancer is more than 80 percent.
However, being diagnosed with and treated for cancer in childhood creates a new set of problems: chronic, late effects that can affect patients’ health and well-being throughout their adult years, long after they're considered "cured" of cancer. As the population of childhood cancer survivors grows, clinicians are paying increasing attention to this problem.
“In the last few years, survivorship has become an extremely important issue,” said Karla Wilson, M.S.N., R.N., nurse practitioner in City of Hope’s Childhood Cancer Survivorship Program. “It is crucial to evaluate patients for late effects of treatment, and inform them of their late-effects risks specific to their diagnosis and treatment so they can take proactive steps to minimize those risks.”
To help get the word out about learning and managing these risks, Wilson and other experts will participate in the upcoming session “Ask the Experts: Childhood Cancer Survivors: Taking Charge of Your Health,” moderated by Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences.
Some of these issues include:
- Learning about late effects: Side effects of cancer treatment are not the same for everyone,” Wilson said. The types, duration and severity of these effects depend on the cancer treatment used, cumulative doses of treatment and the age/gender of the patient. Thus, it is important for cancer survivors to know their specific treatment regimens so they can learn about the possible late effects associated with them.
- Understanding risks: Although treatments do put cancer survivors at a higher risk for certain side effects, Wilson said, “higher risk does not mean you will develop the problem; it only means you have a greater chance of developing the problem compared to someone who has not had that specific treatment.” Nonetheless, it is useful for survivors and families to learn about these elevated risks so they can catch and manage these side effects in a timely manner.
- Cognitive issues: Because childhood cancer survivors must continue their education and then start a career, Wilson said, it is especially important for them and their families to recognize cognitive impairments (including “chemo brain”) and “develop strategies that decrease their impact on school or job performance.”
- Sexuality and fertility: Most cancer treatments do not impact fertility, Wilson said, but survivors with fertility-related concerns or risks, such as early menopause, should talk to their doctors about family planning options. Survivors might also have trouble developing relationships or discussing their cancer with others, she said. These concerns can, and should, be addressed with a psychosocial specialist.
- Practical matters: This includes catching up to school, getting health or life insurance and even maintaining a healthy life as a survivor. Childhood cancer survivors have a greater chance of being overweight or obese compared to their siblings and peers, Wilson noted.
To learn more about childhood cancer survivorship and things survivors can do to thrive after their treatments, R.S.V.P. to attend the event or tune in to our live stream session on Tuesday, April 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. Pacific.
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