Survivors of childhood cancer have different long-term health risks depending on many factors such as the type of their previous cancer, how old they were when they were treated and what treatment they received.
Clinically it is very important to establish exactly the details of their original diagnosis and therapy, in order to assess relevant long term health problems.
In the history is important to ask questions about the:
- How old were you when you developed cancer?
- What type of cancer was this?
- Where did the cancer start and what adjacent organs did it affect?
- Had it spread to other distant organs?
- Extent and organs removed (important to establish if this involved organs like the spleen or kidneys)
- Complications after surgery
- Radiation therapy:
- Age at the time of RT
- Region of the body treated
- Start date and finish date
- Total dose and fractionation (how many treatments was it split up into)
- Side effects at the time or soon after
- Start and finish date
- What drugs were used?
- Total dose of each drug (for some drugs such as Adriamycin and cyclophosphamide this is very important)
- Any other systemic therapy given?
- Was there any other serious health issue prior to, at time of or immediately after therapy? For example:
- Infection (meningitis, typhlitis)
- Blocked shunt
Current Health Status:
- General Health:
- Energy level and fatigue
- Weight - steady, gained, loss
- Activities of daily living
- Exercise - how much and how frequently
- Habits - smoking, alcohol consumption, recreational drugs
- Menstrual cycle regular in woman?
- Trying to conceive?
- Any previous testing to determine fertility status?
- Education history:
- Any problems in high school?
- Did they complete grade 12?
- Did they obtain a special high school diploma?
- In BC, students may obtain a grade 12 "Dogwood diploma" which can involve completion of a course in basic living skills.
- Any post-secondary education?
- How long?
- Any benefits?
- Is it possible to afford the medications you need?
- Happy with work?
- Mental health
- Any depression or anxiety?
- Social life and relationships?
- Review of systems with attention to organs that were treated previously. For example:
- RT to gut may be associated with long term malabsorption and diarrhoea
- Previous anthracycline therapy may be associated with symptoms of cardiac failure such as shortness of breath on exertion and difficulty lying flat
- Previous treatment for a brain tumor may cause:
- poor short term memory
- difficulty concentrating
- visual problems
- hearing impairment
Always check weight and height (so BMI can be calculated) and blood pressure.
Hypertension is a common problem in survivors of childhood cancer
- General physical examination
- To specifically look for physical problems related to previous treatment:
Examples of focussed examination:
|What you are looking for
|RT to anywhere to at all in the head and neck
|RT to face and jaw
|RT to face close to eyes
|Eye - cranial nerve examination and fundoscopy
Cranial nerve palsy
RT to spine or one side of the abdomen
Assess if spine is straight:
|RT to mediastinum
Ischemic heart disease
|RT to lungs
|Chest wall deformity
|Blood pressure and renal examination
Screening investigations depend very much on the previous diagnosis and therapy. Rough guidelines are given in the different sections of this website. These investigations are not "set in stone" and recommendations continuously change. There is also controversy about the frequency and efficacy of these tests. Much emphasis is placed on "evidence based" screening recommendations in a field where we are just beginning to appreciate the extent of these problems.
Depending on the risk of late effects after therapy, it may be important to involve a multidisciplinary health care team in the investigation and follow up of these patients.
Survivor's health problems may be broad ranging and severe. For example, a brain tumor survivor may need a neurologist (seizures), an endocrinologist (pituitary and thyroid deficiency), an ophthalmologist (visual problems), a psychiatrist/psychologist for depression and neurocognitive difficulties, a rehabilitation medicine team to provide help with vocational and recreational rehabilitation and a social worker to provide practical assistance.
The Children's Oncology Group (COG) have ongoing research programs to identify the different factors which increase the risk of late effects:
- Long-Term Follow-Up of all Patients Who Have Participated in Children's Oncology Group Studies
- Study of Late-Occurring Complications in Childhood Cancer Survivors