Aug 24, 2016
In the field of pediatric cancer, there are many signs of hope, particularly as the childhood cancer 5-year survival rate has climbed to 83%.
Although we celebrate these children’s victories over cancer, little is still known about the long-term health effects, chronic medical conditions, and any associated social consequences affecting these survivors through adulthood.
If you had cancer as a child, are you more likely to have chronic illnesses as an adult? Can it impact your likelihood of getting married or obtaining a job? If so, what can be done?
Karen Effinger, MD, MS, of Emory University/Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, was curious about the lack of answers to these questions.
“There are a lot more survivors of childhood cancer than there used to be, and that alone is amazing,” Dr. Effinger said. “But now we need to study these patients long term. We need to find out if there is anything we can do to help them not just have a life, but enjoy meaningful quality of life well into old age.”
The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO (CCF) was proud to support Dr. Effinger with a Young Investigator Award (YIA) to help her examine this compelling research idea. Today, thanks to Dr. Effinger and her team, we now know more about childhood cancer survivors than ever before.
“We had a really interesting outcome,” Dr. Effinger said. “About 12% of survivors still had cancer-related pain 5 years after their treatment ended, and things did not get better as the children grew into adults. Survivors had generally worse mental health. They also had lower chances of being married, graduating from college, and having stable employment or a high income.”
With this new study, Dr. Effinger believes her colleagues in the cancer community can introduce regular screenings and early interventions for these young patients to set them up for healthy, productive lives well after their cancer first goes into remission.
“We’re seeing if we can introduce more physical and occupational therapy to support [patients] very early on after treatment,” Dr. Effinger said.
Without the support of her YIA, Dr. Effinger explained, her study would have been much more difficult to conduct. “Having these opportunities to dedicate time to scientific inquiry and help your research grow, especially in this tight funding environment we are in, is really important,” she said.