Young leukaemia survivors may need monitoring of lung health

In collaboration with Adfero

Children who have survived leukaemia may need to have regular monitoring to ensure their lungs remain healthy if they had a bone marrow transplantation during their treatment, US scientists have said.

They also recommended that childhood cancer survivors should keep away from tobacco smoke and air pollution and be vaccinated against pneumonia and flu.

Advances in anti-cancer treatments mean that more children are surviving the disease - and there is therefore an increasing focus on ensuring they enjoy good health and wellbeing in the long term.

Bone marrow transplants can be life-saving, but they are also known to be associated with lung complications, such as reduced ability of the lungs to expand, contract and replenish the blood's supply of oxygen.

Scientists at St Jude Children's Research Hospital conducted a study in which they looked at the long-term lung function of 89 childhood leukaemia survivors, half of whom had received transplants of healthy blood-producing stem cells several years previously, between the ages of six and 21 years.

Participants agreed to have routine tests of their lung function so that the researchers could analyse any changes and identify any risk factors for declining lung health.

Publishing their findings in the journal Cancer, the study authors revealed that less than eight per cent of cancer survivors had asthma, chronic coughs or other persistent breathing problems.

However, 64 per cent of participants showed some degree of abnormal function on at least one of the nine tests performed on their lungs.

The researchers said that their findings highlight the importance of long-term monitoring of young cancer survivors who have undergone bone marrow transplantation to keep an eye on their lung health.

Lead author Dr Hiroto Inaba, assistant member in the St Jude Department of Oncology, revealed: "These survivors are still young; most are still under age 30. In some cases, their lung function has continued to deteriorate, but they do not yet have symptoms of chronic respiratory problems. Our goal is to prevent that from happening."

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "Survival rates from childhood leukaemia have improved dramatically over the past 40 years - now research is focusing on ways to protect the long-term health of survivors and this study adds to that effort."

References

  • Inaba, H. et al (2010). Pulmonary dysfunction in survivors of childhood hematologic malignancies after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation Cancer, 116 (8), 2020-2030 DOI: 10.1002/cncr.24897