There is much to celebrate in the field of childhood cancer.

  • Thirty years ago, few children with cancer survived, but now almost 80% of all children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer are surviving more than 5 years; majority are cured

  • Currently, there are more than 270,000 childhood cancer survivors in the USA

  • 1:1000 adults younger than the age of 45 years and 1:570 adults between the ages of 20 - 34 years is a cancer survivor

  • There are almost 100,000 childhood cancer survivors in college today

  • Survivorship is expected to increase to 1:250 persons by the year 2010

Late Effects

With survivors living longer, oncologists now know that the cancer treatment their patients received may affect their physical and emotional health many years later. These are called "late effects". Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery may all cause late effects involving any organs or body systems. Some complications can be identified early during treatment and follow-up. The majority of late effects, however, become apparent many years after treatment is finished. Some late effects are easily treated, while others may become chronic.

Late effects are caused by injury to healthy cells as a result of cancer treatment. Just like every person reacts differently to treatment, late effects also vary from person to person and cancer to cancer. A lot depends on the types of therapy and the doses used. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy cause most of the late effects.

Examples of some late effects that can occur in childhood cancer survivors:

  • Heart disease after treatment with anthracycline chemotherapy or high-dose chest radiation.

  • Learning disabilities in survivors treated with radiation and/or chemotherapy to the brain.

  • Breast cancer at an early age in female survivors of Hodgkin's disease who received mantle radiation (chest and neck) in their teens.

  • Second cancers from chemotherapy drugs or radiation used to treat the original cancer.

  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome in survivors and their parents.

  • Chronic pain and fatigue.

Learn more about the late effects of cancer in The Next Step: Crossing the Bridge to Survivorship.