There are more than 9 million five-year cancer survivors in the United States, which researchers said makes long-term effects of treatment more important to know. Photo by luckytonyom/Shutterstock
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Childhood and young adult cancer survivors are at increased risk for chronic medical conditions, but researchers said more research into the long-term effects of cancer treatment is needed to understand the level of risk for individual patients.
The large number of cancer survivors living longer requires doctors to consider both immediate and long-term outcomes of treatment, according to researchers in studies conducted by the Danish Cancer Society and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
The studies found cancer survivors have a greater risk of hospitalization, and that long-term survivors of childhood cancers had cognitive issues later in life.
"Advances in cancer therapy have led to increased survival -- there are more than 9 million 5-year survivors of cancer in the United States," researchers at Stanford University wrote in an editorial published with the studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "As this number continues to grow, focus on improved health and quality of life becomes a priority."
Researchers at the Danish Cancer Society analyzed hospital records for 33,555 five-year cancer survivors who received their diagnosis between 1943 and 2004 when they were between the ages of 15 and 39. The survivors' records were compared with 228,447 healthy people matched to patients by sex and year of birth.
Among the cancer survivors, researchers found 53,032 hospitalizations after a median follow-up of 14 years, as compared with 38,423 for the healthy people. Leukemia, brain cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma survivors were at highest risk for hospitalization, on top of the increased risk survivors face in general.
The study at St. Jude Children's Hospital looked at neurocognitive function, neurobehavioral symptoms, emotional distress and quality of life in 80 survivors of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, who were a mean age of 38.9 and were on average 25 years past their diagnosis. The cancer survivors were compared to 39 unrelated community members.
The long-term survivors had lower average scores in reading, attention, memory and processing information. The cognitive issues were, however, found not to be related to cancer treatment that included high doses of methotrexate.
"Going forward, we must apply our knowledge of late effects to improve monitoring and interventions for patients," researchers said of considering the effect of cancer treatment long after the disease is gone.