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Care After Childhood Cancer

Becky Lowry, MD, FACP, and Kyla Alsman, RN, BSN

October 07, 2019

Today, because of advancements in treatment, 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will survive into adulthood. Sixty years ago, less than half of children were alive 5 years after their diagnosis. This achievement is remarkable, but increased survival rates have revealed the long-term effects of cancer treatments.

Late effects of cancer treatment

While the treatment cured these children of cancer, it also put them at increased risk of developing late effects. Late effects are health conditions that occur as a result of treatment, and sometimes do not surface until decades after treatment is complete.

In fact, in a study of more than 1,700 adult survivors of childhood cancer published in the June 12, 2013, Journal of the American Medical Association, it was estimated that about 80% would develop a serious, disabling or life-threatening chronic health condition by the age of 45.

Late effects may include:

  • Growth and development delays
  • Secondary cancers
  • Fertility problems
  • Early heart disease
  • Endocrine system (hormone system) dysfunction, including thyroid function, bone strength, blood sugar management, energy production
  • Weakened immune system
  • Neurologic and cognitive concerns, including problems with concentration and memory
  • Psychosocial concerns such as mood and sleep disturbances

Transitioning to a lifetime of care

The transition from a pediatric medical oncologist to an adult provider can be overwhelming, especially if the patient is ready to put the experience of cancer behind them and move on to a healthy, normal life.

That is why The University of Kansas Cancer Center, in collaboration with the Children’s Mercy Survive and Thrive program and the Masonic Cancer Alliance established the Pediatric Cancer Survivorship Transition clinic.

Furthermore, as a child, the patient may not have realized the full extent of their cancer treatment, and therefore may not be aware of their care plan moving forward. Early and frequent care can diminish potential late effects down the road.

Each patient has a unique health history, and that calls for a tailored treatment and care plan. At the survivorship transition clinic, we work with patients to help them understand the risks of late effects. Not only do we ensure that each patient has the appropriate testing and screening to monitor for the development of these late effects, but we also connect patients with specialists if any health issues are found. We also educate patients on how to minimize these risks.

There are several pediatric cancer survivorship clinics across the U.S.; however, only a handful of these clinics are housed in an adult institution like The University of Kansas Cancer Center. In our clinic, we provide care in two different ways:

  • Individuals who already have an established primary care provider
    We encourage these individuals to maintain that relationship and see us in the survivorship clinic once a year for survivorship care only. We ensure that their primary care providers get a copy of our notes, a treatment summary and understand our care plan.

  • Individuals who need a primary care provider
    We can serve as both the primary care provider and the survivorship provider.

No matter where pediatric patients received treatment, we help make the transition to adult care and follow-up. It doesn’t matter where our patients received cancer care as a child – we are here to ensure that every childhood cancer survivor is living a healthy life. If you are interested in making an appointment, call 913-945-6655.

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