Vision loss after childhood cancer increases health risks

Researchers in two recent studies said doctors should consider the long-term fallout of cancer treatments in children, and the potential future effects of treatments.

By Stephen Feller

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Both cancer and loss of vision can have a profound effect on life. In the case of children who survive cancers that affect vision, researchers in two recent studies found patients are at greater risk for health complications, including more cancer.

In the case of brain cancer and retinoblastoma, characterized by tumors that start at the back of one or both eyes, effects were seen across the lives of patients. The researchers show, however, that whether cancer affects one or both eyes, and choice of treatment, shifts the risk factor for individual patients.


Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recruited 470 adult retinoblastoma survivors participating in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study who were diagnosed between 1932 and 1994 and followed for an average of 42 years after treatment. The patients were compared to 2,377 people who had not had the cancer and were of similar age, sex and race.

In the study, published in the journal Cancer, researchers found suvivors had an increased risk of medical problems, including second cancers. Retinoblastoma survivors had an 86.6 percent risk of developing at least one condition, and 71.1 percent had a severe or life-threatening condition of some sort. This higher risk was found to be true for all survivors, though those with cancer in both eyes were at greater risk for any condition, including cancer.


In the second study, conducted at Case Western Reserve University and also published in the journal Cancer, researchers analyzed medical records for 1,233 people who survived brain cancer as children and also participated in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.

Among the survivors, 22.5 percent had a visual impairment and were more likely than those without impairment to be unmarried, unemployed, or live with a caregiver. Whether survivors were impaired in one or both eyes made no difference. Vision difficulty was not associated with psychological or significant socioeconomic outcomes.

Researchers in both studies said the results should help medical professionals treat the cancers, and plan for future surveillance of potential complications later in life.

"Appropriate lifelong risk-based screening of this population will allow for timely treatment of any medical problems that may arise," Dr. Danielle Novetsky Friedman, a researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said in a press release.

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