Childhood Cancer Warriors at Higher Risk of GI Cancers

Gastrointestinal cancer risks greater in those who had cancer as a child

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Gastrointestinal cancers show up anywhere along the digestive tract. And while risk factors for each organ vary, a separate group of people appear to be at greater risk.

People who have had childhood cancer, especially who received radiation to the abdomen are 4.5 times more likely than the general public to develop gastrointestinal cancers.

These cancers include esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, liver, pancreas, colon and rectum.

"Talk to your doctor about screening tests."

Researchers from a number of institutions studied the incidence and risks of gastrointestinal cancers faced by people who had been diagnosed with childhood cancer between 1970 and 1986. Tara O. Henderson, MD, MPH, of the University of Chicago, led the effort.

Study participants included 14,358 individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 21 and had lived at least five years after the diagnosis.

After a median follow-up of about 23 years, 45 people in the study had developed gastrointestinal cancers.

"We observed that young survivors of childhood cancer, particularly Wilms tumor, Hodgkin lymphoma, and bone and brain tumors, are at increased risk for gastrointestinal cancer compared with the age-matched general population," the study authors wrote.

Children who had received abdominal radiation were at the highest risk, researchers discovered. Additionally, those who were treated with high-dose procarbazine and platinum chemotherapy drugs were also at significantly increased risk.

The study had limitations. The group studied had not yet reached the age when the risk of gastrointestinal cancer is the greatest. These cancers are typically diagnosed in individuals in their 70s.

Tumors appeared in children as young as 9 years old, with all patients being under the age of 45 when the GI cancer was diagnosed. The authors add they expect the number of cases to increase as the population ages.

As a result of this study, researchers recommend that people who have had childhood cancer begin to be screened for gastrointestinal cancers starting 10 years after radiation or by the age of 35, whichever is latest.

This research, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, was published online June 5, 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Financial disclosures were not publicly available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2012
Last Updated:
May 29, 2013