News Childhood Cancer Survivors Can Take to Heart

Childhood cancer treatments can cause arterial damage in young survivors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Therapies that are successful in wiping out childhood leukemia can impact the health of survivors years down the road. New research found that heart problems can begin to appear in survivors even during childhood.

Researchers have discovered that chemotherapy may be resulting in premature heart disease in pre-adolescent and teenaged childhood cancer survivors.

This research offers childhood cancer survivors valuable information that suggests they can lower their heart disease risks by engaging in healthy lifestyle practices.

At the same time, physicians caring for youngsters who’ve been treated for cancer should monitor the cardiovascular health of these patients.

"Make sure your physician knows your complete medical history."

Donald R. Dengel, PhD, kinesiology professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, led a team of researchers who compared the heart health of young cancer survivors with that of youngsters who had never been treated for the disease.

This is the first study of its kind to look at the cardiovascular impact of childhood cancer treatments while survivors were still children.

Specifically, the researchers measured artery stiffness, thickness and function in 319 boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 18 who had been treated for various types of cancer and 208 siblings with no cancer history, who served as controls (comparisons).

The arteries carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Because of this vital function, damage to the arteries can interrupt the flow of blood around the body and lead to heart disease.

Youngsters in this study had been diagnosed with cancer five or more years earlier.

The researchers found that as a group, young childhood cancer survivors were more likely than youngsters in the control group to show signs of premature heart disease as a result of arterial damage.

Children treated for leukemia with chemotherapy regimens had a 9 percent decline in overall arterial health compared to kids with no history of cancer.

The survivors tended to be shorter and have higher composition of body fat than did the control youngsters.

Dr. Dengel noted that children in the study were predominantly white and that the study findings may not relate to children of different races or ethnicities.

The researchers were not able to identify a specific chemotherapy agent that was involved in the blood vessel structural and functional changes seen in the survivors.

“These results demonstrate that early in life, childhood cancer survivors have arterial changes indicating increased risk for premature atherosclerosis [plaque build-up in arteries] and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is reasonable to advocate that efforts should be directed at monitoring and managing cardiovascular risk factors in childhood cancer survivors,” the authors wrote.

Findings from this study were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013. All research is considered preliminary before being published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources and General Clinical Research Center Program funded the study.

Review Date: 
November 20, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013