EXPERTS CALL FOR MORE RESEARCH INTO CHILDHOOD CANCER TREATMENTS TO COMBAT LATE EFFECTS
25.9% of children treated for Grade 1 or 2 cancer, experienced a subsequent grade 3 – 5 cancer within 10 years
Oncology forecasting experts at J+D Forecasting have today called for additional research and investment to develop new childhood cancer treatments, as research shows as many as 60% of those treated suffer debilitating late effects in adulthood.
The latest World Health Organisation figures show that in high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer are cured, therefore little investment is put into developing new treatments. Currently two of the main childhood cancer treatments are chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and while both are life-saving therapies, as they work to kill off cancer cells, they also destroy a child’s healthy cells.
Researchers believe that as these cells are being killed during a child’s critical development stages, the late effects they suffer from years after treatment are much greater than the effects felt by adults who have received similar medication.
The recent Childhood Cancer Survivor Report carried out a study which found that amongst childhood cancer survivors who reached age 35 years without a previous grade 3 or 4 condition, 25.9% experienced a subsequent grade 3 to 5 condition within 10 years, compared with 6.0% of siblings.
David James, CEO of J+D Forecasting, commented:
“The priority when a child has cancer is to get the disease into remission as quickly and effectively as possible, but further possible effects caused by the cancer in the patient’s later life must be considered and monitored. Some of these effects can be hugely dramatic and damaging and much more research and development is needed in this area to ensure we are managing future prognoses as effectively as possible. Different types of late effects of childhood cancer can include reproductive and sexual development problems, growth & development issues, heart and lung issues and lung, dental, hearing & vision problems.”
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can lead to cognitive impairments, affecting learning capacity and memory issues. This is due to the fact that brain cells grow quickly in the first few years of life, making them very sensitive to radiation. Doctors try to avoid using radiation therapy to the head or to postpone it in children younger than 3 years old to limit damage that might affect brain development, and if they do resort to radiotherapy they will try and use as small a dose as possible, but this needs to be balanced with the risk of the cancer growing or returning.
Other possible late effects include:
- Low thyroid function - Hormones from the thyroid affect growth and development in children, as well as help regulate the body’s metabolism. Treatments can cause low thyroid function
(hypothyroidism) which can cause extreme tiredness, dry skin, unexplained weight gain, constipation, slowed bone growth, poor memory, depression, and thinning hair.
- Slow growth of muscle and bones – radio therapy can have serious effects on growth of bone and muscle, slowing the growth of any exposed areas
- Heart disease: Heart disease can be a serious late effect of certain cancer treatments. The actual damage to the heart may occur during treatment, but the effects may not show up until many years, or even decades later. A class of chemo drugs called anthracyclines, which are used to treat many childhood cancers, can damage the heart muscle or affect its rhythm. The amount of damage is related to the total dose of the drug given and the child’s age at the time of treatment.
- Lung problems - Decreased lung volume, shortness of breath, scarred/inflamed lung tissue, constant cough
“New treatments such as CAR-T therapies, which are highly complex and innovative types of immunotherapy[JM1] involving collecting and using the patients’ own immune cells to treat their condition, are approved for NHS use for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia for children and young people up to the age of 25. However, these types of therapies need further research and development, so we understand as clearly as possible how we can best minimise the suffering of childhood cancer victims later in life. For the industry, this is absolutely crucial."
- J+D Forecasting
- J+D Forecasting