When cancer strikes a child the world seems a cruel, unjust place. No child should have to endure the treatments, the pain and the suffering associated with cancer. However, as parents of children with cancer know, the prognosis is often very good; more than 80% of children with cancer survive.
But sadly, it’s not all good news for those who survive. Too many children, as they grow older, continue to be affected by their bout with this serious illness in early life. Rates of a second cancer diagnosis, heart failure, and other severe medical complications are much higher for early childhood cancer survivors than for the general population.
What the Study Shows
For the first time, a study has been done to track the rates of long-term, debilitating illnesses in childhood cancer survivors. The study shows that children who had a cancer diagnosis between 1970 and 1986 are five times more likely to have been accepted for Social Security Disability Assistance than those without a cancer diagnosis in the same timeframe.
University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute investigator Anne Kirchhoff is the lead author of the study. She notes, “Survivors that were younger at diagnosis, age 4 or younger, were about seven times more likely to be on SSI than we see with survivors that were diagnosed in their adolescence.”
To get their data, researchers looked at health insurance surveys taken in 2011-2012 by 698 childhood cancer survivors who were diagnosed from birth to age 20. A comparison group of 210 siblings who did not have a cancer diagnosis served as a control for the study.
What they found was that 13.5% of the survivors had been enrolled in SSI at some point during their lives and 10% had been on SSDI. When you compare this to control group’s rate of 2.6% on SSI and 5.4% on SSDI it becomes clear that the childhood cancer survivors have a significantly increased rate of ongoing disability, long after they are cancer-free.
What Can be Done to Lower Rates of Ongoing Illness in Childhood Cancer Survivors
According to Dr. Kirchhoff, “The long-term impact of cancer can affect other issues besides health outcomes. We need to do a better job of helping people function throughout their lives, not just when they’re finishing cancer therapy.” Because of research like this hospitals are retooling their efforts in an attempt to help survivors in the long-term.
Hopefully more hospitals will follow suit and the families of these youngest cancer survivors will have the help they need to prevent further health issues for their children.