Childhood cancer survivors live longer, but not necessarily with better health

In collaboration with the Press Association

Children diagnosed with cancer in the 90s are living longer than those diagnosed in the 1970s, according to a new US study.

"This important study shows that for children diagnosed with cancer in the 90s there hasn’t been a reduction in long-term side effects or improvements in quality of life" - Dr Saif Ahmad, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Cancer Centre

But there has been little improvement in overall health, the report finds.
 
The study took data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, which includes information on health status provided by patients from more than 14,000 adult childhood cancer survivors treated between 1970 and 1999.
 
The researchers compared the health of this group to their siblings to determine if improvements in treatment over the decades resulted in better long-term health and not just increased survival.
 
The patients provided updates on their general health since the treatment. This included any limits to activity, mental health problems, functional impairment, pain or anxiety.
 
The researchers anticipated that patients treated in the 70s would report worse overall long-term health than those treated in the 90s. 

But surprisingly, the group found the opposite. Their work, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that improvements in survival were not matched by improvements in patient-reported health status among survivors. 
 
In fact, there was an increase in the number of childhood cancer survivors treated from 1990 to 1999 who reported poor general health and anxiety.
 
Dr Kirsten Ness, co-first author on the paper and member of the St. Jude Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Control, said: “There has been a lack of improvement in perceived health status by childhood cancer survivors over the past 30 years.”
 
Dr Saif Ahmad, a cancer doctor and researcher based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Cancer Centre, said: “This important study shows that for children diagnosed with cancer in the 90s there hasn’t been a reduction in long-term side effects or improvements in quality of life – despite considerable advances in surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy improving survival.
 
“It also highlights that more needs to be done to improve the psychosocial wellbeing of cancer survivors.
 
“Using information gathered from patients themselves, which is increasingly being done in modern day clinical trials, gives us a really valuable insight into the effects that their treatment has had on their lives.”
 
The researchers suggest that the poorer health reported by some patients could be partially explained by the fact that survivors are living longer. 
 
And those who reported a worse health status tended to be heavy drinkers, have a poor diet and smoked.