What Happens After You Survive Childhood Cancer?

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

With a nearly 80 percent survival rate and a record half-million survivors by 2020, St. Jude is helping mitigate long-term health and financial challenges

After completing childhood cancer treatment, patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital celebrate by throwing a “No More Chemo” party. But survivors still face a lifetime of health concerns and challenges requiring close monitoring. With 500,000 survivors expected in the United States by 2020, pediatric cancer doctors and researchers at St. Jude are focusing on how to improve quality of life for this underserved population with a complicated medical past and an uncertain future.

During September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is bringing to light the advanced research focusing on how to care for childhood cancer survivors after treatment.

“The good news is children are surviving cancer at a record-breaking rate,” said Melissa Hudson, M.D., St. Jude Cancer Survivorship Division director. “When Childhood Cancer Awareness Month began 50 years ago, a pediatric cancer diagnosis was an almost certain death sentence. Today, more than 80 percent of children in the United States diagnosed with cancer will reach the five-year survival mark. So we are working very hard on advancing care for cancer survivors during and after treatment to increase quality of life throughout adulthood.”

There’s a growing trend in epidemiology to better understand what the late effects of childhood cancer treatments are, and through programs like St. Jude LIFE – an unprecedented research study bringing long-term childhood cancer survivors back for regular health screenings throughout their life – investigators have a clear picture of the issues these individuals face. To date, more than 4,300 participants and 580 controls have undergone comprehensive health evaluations through St. Jude LIFE, providing researchers with a wide range of health, reproductive, financial and psychosocial insights.

Researchers at St. Jude have uncovered specific challenges childhood cancer survivors face throughout the remainder of their lives, including:

Through comprehensive research, advanced innovations in medical treatments and improved understanding of childhood cancer, the five-year survival rates for cancer diagnosis among individuals younger than 20 exceeds 80 percent. Fewer than 60 years ago, a childhood cancer diagnosis was considered a death sentence.

As survival rates have risen, treatment intensity has lessened; the less toxic treatments used to kill the cancer cells, the better off survivors are later in life. For Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, St. Jude is highlighting its focus on how to best manage a survivor’s quality of life after cancer.

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. St. Jude is ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.