Living with cancer blog

Childhood cancer survivors face unique risks as adults

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. June 16, 2012

If you survived a childhood cancer, you may have unique risks now that you're an adult — such as an increased risk of other health conditions or a second cancer.

This past week, I was reading about a new study showing that women who were treated as children with radiation to the chest area have an increased risk of developing breast cancer as adults.

Radiation treatment was an essential and effective way to treat and cure children with lymphoma, leukemia and other cancers in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, radiation was given in higher doses and was not as targeted — so the radiation effects on the body were greater. Today, with newer technology and advanced science, radiation is delivered more precisely and in smaller doses.

In order to understand your personal risks, take a look back at your cancer treatment with your primary care doctor and map out a plan to address your screening needs and other health concerns.

Late effects of cancer treatment will be unique for each person and can vary depending on the type of treatment you received as well as your age when treatment was given.

Some of the most common long-term effects include:

  • Heart problems
  • Infertility
  • Lung problems
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Memory and learning disabilities
  • Kidney problems
  • Increased risk of other types of cancer

You may need to modify your individual cancer screening plan depending on your personal history. For example, in the case of women who received high doses of radiation to the chest area as children, the medical community is now recommending breast cancer screening starting at age 25 — much earlier than is recommended for other women.

Childhood cancer treatments are continually improving and evolving. The medical community is constantly learning more about long-term and late effects. If you're a childhood cancer survivor, be active and ask questions about late effects when you see your health care team. I invite you to share your experiences on the blog.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

June 16, 2012