Cancer treatment takes a toll on the hearts of child survivors, according to research presented at the American Heart Associationâ€™s Scientific Sessions 2013.
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among U.S. children, but the rate of survival has increased significantly from a 5-year survival rate of 58.1 percent in 1975-77 to 83.1 percent in 2003-09.
â€œResearch has shown childhood cancer survivors face heart and other health problems decades after treatment,â€ said Donald R. Dengel, Ph.D., study lead author and a kinesiology professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. â€œBut researchers had notâ€”until nowâ€”looked at the heart health effects of childhood cancer treatment while survivors are still children.â€
Dengel and colleagues measured artery stiffness, thickness and function in 319 U.S. boys and girls (ages 9-18) who had survived leukemia or cancerous tumors. Participants had survived 5 years or longer since their initial cancer diagnosis. Comparing the survivors to 208 sibling children not diagnosed with cancer, researchers found:
- Premature heart disease, as demonstrated by a decline in arterial function, was more likely among the children who survived cancer.
- Childhood leukemia survivors had a 9 percent decrease in arterial health after completing chemotherapy compared to the non-cancer group.
â€œGiven this increased risk, children who survive cancer should make lifestyle changes to lower their cardiovascular risk,â€ Dengel said. â€œHealthcare providers who are managing chemotherapy-treated childhood cancer survivors need to monitor cardiovascular risk factors immediately following the completion of their patientsâ€™ cancer therapy.â€
â€œThe children in the study were predominately white, so the findings might not apply to other racial and ethnic groups,â€ Dengel said.
And because of differences in childhood cancer treatment protocols, we are unable to attribute the changes in vascular structure and function to a specific chemotherapy agent,â€ he said.