Childhood Cancer Treatment and Diabetes Risk

Childhood cancer abdominal radiation associated with diabetes

(RxWiki News) Radiation is powerful energy that can zap and destroy cancer cells. Millions of people are alive thanks to this power. This therapy isn't without side effects, though, and people who battled childhood cancers will want to be aware of a newly uncovered late effect.

Children and young people with cancer who received radiation to the abdomen may be at increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.

"Understand the side effects of all treatments."

A group of scientists in France and England realized this link after surveying about 2,500 people who had been treated for some form of childhood cancer between 1945 and 1985.

For this study, the scientists estimated the amounts of radiation the tail, head and body of pancreas and 185 other sites in the body received.

The objective of the study was to evaluate the relationship between radiation dose to the pancreas and the risk of later diabetes diagnosis.

Here’s what the study found:

  • 65 of the 2,520 study members developed diabetes.
  • The risk of developing diabetes was greatest among those who had gotten radiation to the tail of the pancreas.
  • Among the 511 patients who received radiation to the tail of the pancreas, 16 percent developed diabetes.
  • Radiation to other parts of the pancreas was not associated with an increased risk of diabetes.
  • Results were not affected by person’s BMI (body mass index).
  • Children younger than two who received radiation were more sensitive to the therapy than were older children.

The authors concluded, “Our study provides evidence of a dose-response relation between radiation exposure of pancreas and subsequent risk of diabetes.”

They added that given the high incidence of diabetes in the general population, this association is a public health concern. “The pancreas needs to be regarded as a critical organ when planning radiation therapy, particularly in children. Follow-up of patients who received abdominal irradiation should include diabetes screening,” the authors wrote.

This research was published August 23 in The Lancet Oncology.

This study was funded by the Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer, Institut de Recherche en Santé Publique, Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique, Institut National du Cancer, Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire et des Produits de Santé, Fondation Pfizer pour la santé de l'enfant et de l'adolescent.

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Review Date: 
August 26, 2012