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Adults who survived childhood cancer return to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to celebrate victory over disease, mark clinic’s 25th anniversary
Treatment advances in recent decades mean that the ranks of childhood cancer survivors have swelled to about 325,000 individuals nationwide. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has led the field in developing major research programs that follow survivors’ progress for decades after their treatment. The centerpiece of efforts to maintain the long-term health of cancer survivors is the After Completion of Therapy (ACT) Clinic which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
As cancer treatments have become more successful, gathering long-term data on cancer survivors has become more important to improve their quality of life. Such data are invaluable because they yield basic scientific insights and new treatments that help future generations of patients. They also improve the quality of life of today’s survivors.
“The ACT Clinic anticipates survivors’ needs based on their unique cancer history, assuring that they have access to appropriate screenings and community resources, and partnering with local health care providers to streamline the transition from pediatric to adult care,” said Melissa Hudson, M.D., director of the Cancer Survivorship Division and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
St. Jude patients can transfer to the ACT Clinic when they maintain remission for at least two years after completing therapy and are at least five years from diagnosis. They then go to the clinic every year until they are 18 years of age or until 10 years after diagnosis, whichever is later. At that time, ACT patients graduate and become St. Jude alumni.
Each year, scores of these alumni and their families return to St. Jude to commemorate an integral part of their childhood at St. Jude Annual Survivors Day Conference. The event welcomes St. Jude alumni and patients of all ages back to the hospital to reconnect with staff and former patients, attend educational workshops and participate in special activities that commemorate their battle against catastrophic disease. This year’s event is Saturday, October 10.
“It is important to remember that survivorship does begin at the day of diagnosis. We consider all of our patients survivors,” Hudson said. “We also want them to see that, once they get through therapy, they can lead normal, productive lives.”
As part of the 2009 celebration, themed “Survivorship: Enhancing the Silver Lining,” keynote speaker, 2008 Olympic swimmer and cancer survivor Eric Shanteau will share his message of hope and triumph. During the summer of 2008, Shanteau achieved his lifelong dream of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. Just one week before the trials, he was found to have with testicular cancer. Shanteau was able to delay surgery to compete in the Olympic Games where he swam a personal best time in the 200 meter breaststroke. Shanteau is an advocate for cancer awareness, especially in young adults, and travels the country giving motivational speeches.
For those who have already marked a decade or more as cancer survivors, St. Jude is in the midst of one of the most ambitious studies yet of the long-term impact of cancer and its treatment. The St. Jude Life study is inviting more than 4,000 of alumni cancer survivors who were treated at the hospital to return for clinical evaluation.
“The goal is to better understand issues survivors face and to identify factors that might help predict risk for long-term health problems,” said Les Robison, Ph.D., Epidemiology and Cancer Control chair. “The knowledge will also inform future cancer treatments. Today’s therapies are based on improved understanding of the potential treatment complications of those earlier therapies. The findings of this study will serve as a benchmark against which we will be able to compare future outcomes.”
The scientific community will learn more when St. Jude investigators publish specific St. Jude Life outcomes in early 2010. The work will continue for decades with the expertise and resources available to fight late effects from all angles.
“Following St. Jude patients throughout life is a substantial institutional commitment,” Robison said. “Moving forward is going to require tenacity, perseverance and focus as we capitalize on this unique opportunity to cure our patients with minimal or no adverse long-term effects of their cancers.”
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization. For more information, please visit www.stjude.org.