What late effects might people who were treated for childhood cancers experience?

If you underwent cancer treatment as a child, you may be at risk of many of the same late side effects of treatment as people who were adults during their cancer treatments.

But you may also be at risk of additional late side effects. That's because children's bones, tissues and organs are growing rapidly during treatment, so cancer treatment can interfere during this critical time of growth.

As with late side effects in adult cancer survivors, late side effects in childhood cancer survivors will vary depending on the type of cancer and type of treatment. Additionally, the age at which you were treated may determine what late side effects, if any, you might be at risk of.

Some late side effects experienced by childhood cancer survivors include:

  • Heart problems, including an increased risk of heart attacks
  • Blood vessel problems, including an increased risk of stroke
  • Lung problems, which can cause difficulty breathing
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Bone problems, such as bone thinning (osteoporosis) and joint pain
  • Short stature, caused by slow bone growth
  • Obesity
  • Infertility
  • Memory problems and learning disabilities
  • Vision loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Increased risk of other types of cancers
  • Nerve damage

If you were treated for cancer many years ago, you may assume any health problems you have are related to aging, not past cancer treatments.

Tell your doctor what you know about your childhood cancer treatments. If your parents or other family members have records of your treatment, provide those for your doctor.

What signs and symptoms might signal that you're experiencing late effects of cancer treatment?

Talk to your doctor about the late effects of your particular treatment. In some cases your doctor will know what effects you're at risk of. But the late effects of many treatments still aren't known.

Your doctor might be able to help you understand what signs and symptoms are clues that you're experiencing certain late effects of your cancer treatment. Your doctor might also screen you for late effects of treatment when you come in for follow-up appointments after your cancer treatment is completed.

Report to your doctor any signs or symptoms that concern you. It's best to have them checked out so that, at the very least, you don't spend a lot of time worrying about what could be wrong.

If you were treated for cancer many years ago or are no longer seeing a cancer specialist for checkups, talk to your primary care doctor about late effects. If you think you might be experiencing late effects or your doctor isn't sure what late effects to watch for, ask for a referral to a cancer specialist.

What can you do to prevent late effects of cancer treatment?

It isn't clear that late effects are preventable or why some people might experience late effects while others don't. This can be frustrating.

Try not to feel hopeless. Take steps to make yourself strong and healthy, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. This can help you to cope better with late effects, should they develop.

Oct. 08, 2014 See more In-depth