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Changes in treatment extend the lifespan of long-term survivors of childhood cancer

Fregory Armstrong, MD, MSCE

Evidence from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study suggests that changes in childhood cancer treatment have reduced deaths from the late effects of cancer treatment and extended the lives of childhood cancer survivors. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital investigators led the research, which will be presented today at the plenary session of the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The study is one of four being featured at the plenary session press briefing, which highlights research that ASCO deems as having the highest scientific merit and greatest potential to affect patient care.

The research involved 34,033 childhood cancer survivors whose cancer was diagnosed and treated between 1970 and 1999 when they were ages 20 and younger. All lived at least five years after their cancer was discovered and were considered long-term survivors. The analysis showed that the 15-year death rate has decreased steadily since 1970 due in part to a reduction in deaths from the late effects of cancer treatment.

The declines coincided with changes in pediatric cancer therapy and follow-up care. The changes included reductions in the use and dose of radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), Hodgkin lymphoma and Wilms tumor, a cancer of the kidneys. The therapies leave survivors at increased risk for developing second cancers, heart failure and other serious health problems.

“These results suggest that we have learned how and when to back off of therapy, and we are better about recognizing and managing the late effects of treatment,” said the study’s first and corresponding author Greg Armstrong, M.D., an associate member of the Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control and the principal investigator of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. “The bottom line is that childhood cancer survivors in more recent eras are living longer.”

May 31, 2015

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