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Childhood cancer survivors face higher risk of serious heart problems as adults

A University of Minnesota team has discovered a link between childhood cancer survivorship and serious heart problems later in life. When compared with their healthy siblings, childhood cancer survivors are 5 to 10 times more likely to develop serious heart problems, the team found.

The study, led by Daniel Mulrooney, M.D., M.S., an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, compared 14,358 survivors enrolled in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study to 3,899 of their siblings without cancer (see related story). The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s 44th annual meeting in Chicago in May.

“Our study showed that survivors were on average 27 years of age when they started developing heart problems usually seen in older adults,” Mulrooney says. “The risks were particularly high in survivors who received anthracycline drugs, such as doxorubicin, or radiation therapy to the heart as part of their cancer treatment compared with those who did not receive these treatments.”

Mulrooney says the findings demonstrate the need to educate survivors, their families, and other health-care providers about these risks and the need for follow-up to ensure that potential heart problems are caught early.

The survivors studied were 21 years of age or younger when they were diagnosed with cancer between 1970 and 1986. Childhood cancer survivors who had not developed heart problems 30 years post-treatment were shown to have an overall low risk.

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