Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: The Long Term Effects of Childhood Cancer

So the good news is, more and more children are surviving childhood cancer. Survival rates beyond five years after diagnosis are improving all the time, and many more children will survive cancer then ever before.

Doctors try to make sure children with cancer don’t have long term problems following cancer treatment. However, some things can be affected and I’m going to summarise some of those possible effects in today’s blog post.

Possible Effects on Education and Intellectual Development.
Before I start, I would like to reassure people that Georgie suffered cancer three times and sat his GCSE’s whilst having intense treatment yet he still managed to get MUCH better GCSE’s results then I did (and mine were pretty good!).

The majority of children with cancer should be able to carry on with a normal education and should develop intellectually as normal.

Some children, usually those with brain cancer, can develop learning difficulties and may require special help at school but this would depend on their age and treatment type.

Your child’s doctor will be able to advise you on any special educational requirements and your child’s school should be able to help you find a way to carry on with your child’s education. I know Georgie’s school were incredibly understanding and helped him out in lots of different ways.

Possible Effects on Growth and Development.
The pituitary gland is found at the base of the brain and produces hormones which regulate growth and development throughout childhood. Radiotherapy to the brain may affect this and if a child doesn’t produce enough of these hormones their growth will be affected. A man made hormone may be needed to help the child grow.

Radiotherapy can have an effect on growth and development, for example, if a child has radiotherapy on their leg, it may be shorter in length then the other.
It is important that your child’s growth and development is monitored regularly and any signs of their growth and development being affected will need to be investigated. Replacement growth hormone may be necessary.

Possible Effects on Heart and Lungs.
Certain types of cancer treatments, including chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy, can affect the heart and lungs. Regular echocardiogram should be used to monitor the child’s heart and lung function tests may also be necessary. Sometimes the effects are not seen until long after the treatment has finished so regular monitoring is needed for a while after treatment.

Possible Effects on Kidneys.
Some chemotherapy drugs can lead to kidney problems but if your child has those particular drugs then their doctor will arrange tests to monitor and check their kidneys every so often. Any kidney problems are usually not severe and if your child hasn’t had any problems during treatment then it is unlikely they will develop any problems related to their treatment later in life.

Possible Effects on Puberty and Fertility.
I've mentioned cancer and fertility before. I work in a fertility clinic in Harley Street and I have learnt lots about the subject.

I can’t imagine that worrying about your child’s future fertility is going to be high up on your list of worries should they be diagnosed with cancer. It is important to try and find out if their fertility will be affected as it will need to be dealt with at a later date and could have an impact on them emotionally when they grow up. It can be very very distressing to consider your child’s fertility, especially at such a difficult time but being in the know about their treatment and its affects will help in the long run.

Your child will be checked for sighs of puberty at the time of diagnosis. If puberty is delayed or has not happened then hormone replacement will be needed so that puberty can occur when it’s time.

If you have any more questions regarding cancer and fertility please do read my blog post on the subject. There is a box on the side of the page with details of my workplace if you wish to consult a fertility specialist.

Possible Second Cancer.
A very small number of children can be cured of cancer but then develop another type of cancer later on in life. It is important to know that this can be caused by a inherited gene mutation, whilst it is also sometimes caused by the cancer treatments themselves. Your child’s doctor can discuss this possibility with you but I urge you to remain vigilant, even when your child is given the all clear. Demand the doctor’s attention and through testing if you think a second cancer is a possibility.

Please read my blog post on gene mutations, especially Li Fraumeni Syndrome, as this is what led to Georgie being diagnosed with two further cancers after being cured of his first. If you feel you are at risk of a genetic mutation then please look into genetic counseling or visit for more help, support and advice.

As always, my thoughts are with anyone watching their child go through cancer. My love is sent to all the children suffering from cancer. This blog post is dedicated to my beautiful Georgie.


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