Lifestyle Linked to Early Death in Childhood Cancer Survivors

Poor lifestyle and health issues plague some adults who had cancer as children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Surviving cancer as a child is a big deal, but it doesn't necessarily mean the battle is over. Childhood cancer survivors, like the rest of us, must continue practicing healthy habits.

New research showed that some adults who had cancer as children had numerous health problems as they aged and tended to exercise too little and worry too much.

These childhood cancer survivors were also more likely to die early deaths due to chronic illness or living unhealthy lives. This risk is compared to that of other cancer survivors who go on to lead lengthy, healthy lives. 

"Prioritize healthy behavior if you had cancer as a child."

This research was led by Cheryl Cox, PhD, of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. Cox and colleagues collected data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study on children diagnosed with cancer between 1970 and 1986. They also looked at data from the National Death Index for deaths until January 2008.

These researchers found 455 people who died from causes other than cancer recurrence or progression or non-health related events, such as accidents. They compared those who died with 7,162 surviving participants.

Of those who died, 42 percent had malignant tumors seemingly unrelated to the initial cancer, 20 percent died from heart problems, and 7 percent died from lung problems.

There were numerous other -possibly modifiable-risk factors for death, such as being underweight, having an annual income less than $20,000, not exercising enough, not finishing high school and worrying about future health or health insurance.

Those who died were also more likely to frequently visit their doctor.

People who rated their general health as poor or fair were three times more likely to die than people who rated their health better. 

The average age of those who died was 37.

The authors suggested that worrying about health may lead to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor nutrition and inactivity. They also suggested that worrying may reduce immunity or lead to heart disease or endocrine (glands that secrete hormones) issues.

The study authors wrote, “Even at this preliminary stage, our findings can inform providers of strategies to reduce the risk of premature mortality as follows: (1) recognizing treatment-associated risks requiring more intensive follow-up, (2) sensitivity to diminished/declining self-reported health status, (3) targeting at-risk survivor groups (e.g., African-Americans, males) with more vigilant monitoring, and (4) increasing survivors’ awareness of recommended medical surveillance."

This study appeared in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

There were no disclosures of conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 11, 2014
Last Updated:
April 16, 2014