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Study of childhood cancer survivors shows reduction in radiation therapy leads to decline of second cancers

Memphis, Tennessee, February 28, 2017

Gregory Armstrong, MD

Greg Armstrong, MD, of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, is the principal investigator of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study

Childhood cancer survivors are living longer. Now research shows they are also less likely to develop second cancers while still young. The decline followed a sharp drop in the use of radiation therapy for treatment of childhood cancers. The research is published online in the Feb. 28 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the percentage of pediatric cancer patients treated with radiation fell from 77 to 33 percent. The average radiation dose also dropped. Their chance of having second cancers within 15 years of the first fell as well.


Comprehensive results from the Childhood Cancer Survivor study with data from patients from the 1970’s to 1990’s show that pediatric cancer patients treated with less intense therapies have a reduced risk for secondary cancers and other late effects.

The study included 23,603 five-year survivors from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. The survivors were treated at 27 medical centers in the U.S. and Canada. The National Cancer Institute-funded study is based at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Gregory Armstrong, MD, of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, is the principal investigator for the study.

“The most ominous late effect of pediatric cancer treatment is a second malignancy,” he said. “This study shows efforts to reduce the late effects of treatment are paying off.

“The risk of second cancers for survivors increases with age, so it is good to see the reduction in risk for second cancers emerging early in survivorship while survivors are still young.”


Greg Armstrong, MD, MSCE, discusses how pediatric cancer treatments have changed to help maximize survival rates while minimizing late effects of treatment.

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