Lifesaving treatments for childhood brain tumors are a double-edged sword. While destroying cancer cells, therapy can also take a toll on the developing brain.
An unprecedented research study from St. Jude has shed new light on what this can mean for adult survivors of pediatric brain tumors. Researchers brought 224 survivors back to St. Jude, where they had been treated as children, for extensive testing and assessment.
While sobering, the results provided critical insights. Decades after treatment, many brain cancer survivors experienced deficits in intelligence, memory, educational achievement and employment. Radiation therapy to the brain and spine increased these risks, but was not the only contributing factor.
The findings will guide efforts to prevent and alleviate such problems in survivors. One key goal: Catch them early.
“We hope to help these kids while they are on therapy, to prevent the onset of some of these neurocognitive difficulties,” said Tara Brinkman, PhD, of St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “For the survivors who have finished therapy, we want to develop ways to address the problems so they don’t become as severe as what we are seeing with our current adult survivors.”
The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, was part of the unique St. Jude LIFE study. The study brings childhood cancer survivors back to the hospital for regular health screenings throughout their adult lives.