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Chemotalk Newsletter, Vol. 106: February 1, 2017

News for February:

A NEW URGENCY TO PROTECT SURVIVORS OF CHILDHOOD CANCER

By Laurie McGinley

When Brittany Galan was diagnosed with LEUKEMIA at 6 weeks old, doctors warned her parents she had little chance of surviving — she was so young and so sick. But after being treated with CHEMOTHERAPY, “I lived and lived," said the exuberant 24-year-old. “Everyone calls me the miracle baby."

The lifesaving chemo, however, took a heavy toll. It “messed me up neurologically,” Galan said. In grade school, she had trouble with reading and math and eventually went on ADHD medication. In college, the once-avid runner developed a heart problem. Recently, Galan, who juggles two part-time jobs working with children with emotional problems, began taking medication for anxiety and depression.

“Sometimes I think, ‘What’s next?'" she said. “I take a lot of pills. I feel like an old lady."

One of medicine’s greatest successes is the sharp rise in survival rates for children with cancer. But the flip side of that success is that many of those children are turning up years or even decades later with serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, including second cancers, heart disorders, cognitive problems and infertility.

“These treatments seem to accelerate the aging process,” said Greg Aune, a researcher and pediatric oncologist who works at a clinic for childhood cancer survivors at University Hospital in San Antonio, where Galan gets her care.

Aune, like a growing number of scientists and clinicians, is focusing intently on “late effects” of cancer treatments. Many of these researchers work in clinics designed specifically to monitor the health of childhood cancer survivors and alert them to potential risks. With the ranks of survivors swelling, there is an urgent need to understand the treatments' effects on the entire body, not just the tumor, and to come up with less-toxic therapies.

Aune has a personal stake in the research. As a teenager growing up on a wheat farm in eastern Washington state, he was diagnosed with HODGKIN'S LYMPHOMA and treated with intensive radiation and chemo. Two decades later, he ended up in emergency surgery to replace a badly scarred heart valve and three blocked arteries, a direct result of the treatment. At 41, he had a mild stroke while at his daughter’s gymnastics class and was diagnosed with diabetes. His childhood cancer treatment saved his life, and at 43, he appears robust, but he worries that his battered heart might fail.

“If I had been born a lot earlier, I wouldn’t have to worry about late effects because I wouldn’t be here,” Aune said.

Read more...

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