By understanding their risks, childhood cancer survivors learn to be proactive about their health
When Becky Diachun discovered she was pregnant 20 years ago, she immediately called her husband with the happy news. Her second phone call went to the doctor who had coordinated her cancer treatment years before at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“As a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, I wanted to see if there was anything I should know,” explains Diachun, who went on to have four healthy children.
Today, she continues to rely on St. Jude for crucial information about her specific health risks. Diachun obtains much of that information through her participation in St. Jude LIFE. This study brings adults who were treated as children at St. Jude back to the hospital to gauge the impact of cancer treatment on their health as they age.
In a recent study, St. Jude researchers found that 98 percent of these long-term survivors had at least one chronic health condition, ranging from extremely mild to severe. Of the 1,713 St. Jude LIFE participants in the study, 80 percent had encountered a life-threatening or disabling condition by age 45.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the findings underscore the importance of survivors understanding their risks, pursuing healthy lifestyles and obtaining appropriate medical screenings.
For years, researchers have known that adults who received cancer treatment during childhood have an increased risk for health problems. But until this report, no one knew the prevalence of those risks.
“This study was unique, in that we were able to bring in an extremely large population of survivors and comprehensively evaluate them,” says Melissa Hudson, MD, director of the St. Jude Division of Cancer Survivorship.
St. Jude LIFE gives survivors the information they need to communicate crucial information about their health issues to their hometown medical providers. The program also emphasizes vigilance.
“One thing survivors can control is their lifestyle,” says Kirsten Ness, PhD, of St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “For instance, if they’re at risk for high blood pressure because of treatments they received, they can make sure that they follow a heart-healthy diet, that they don’t smoke, and that they exercise.”
Abridged from Promise, Autumn 2013