Don’t we all want to weep when we think of kids battling cancer…and isn’t it great to know that most children now beat the disease? Nevertheless, as they reach adulthood, some childhood cancer survivors need to be extra-wary about yet another cancer threat, a new study reveals.
Researchers looked at long-term data (the median follow-up period was 26 years) on 1,268 female childhood cancer survivors who had been treated with radiation to the chest. It’s not news that radiation raises a person’s risk for future cancers—but what was surprising was the degree to which risk increased.
How the numbers stacked up: Among childhood cancer survivors who had received chest radiation, 24% developed breast cancer by age 50…the median age at diagnosis was just 38. Risk was especially elevated among women who as children got high doses of chest radiation to treat Hodgkin lymphoma (cancer of the immune system)—their rate of 30% was comparable to the 31% rate that the researchers estimated for women who carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.
It is worrisome to note that only about half of women treated with chest radiation as youngsters follow the current breast cancer screening guidelines from the Children’s Oncology Group, a consortium supported by the National Cancer Institute. Those guidelines recommend that childhood cancer survivors who received 20 Gy (the unit of measure for radiation) or more to the chest area undergo twice-yearly clinical breast exams, annual mammograms and annual breast MRIs starting at age 25 or eight years after radiation, whichever comes later. And the new study findings suggest that these same guidelines also may be appropriate for women who were treated with lower chest radiation dosages, researchers said.
Childhood cancer survivors: Talk to your doctor about breast cancer screening—and make sure that he or she is aware of your chest radiation treatment history.