News FocusCancer Research

Childhood's Cures Haunted by Adulthood's 'Late Effects'

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Science  18 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5985, pp. 1474-1475
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5985.1474

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Roughly 40% of cancer survivors will develop life-threatening health problems within 30 years of their initial cancer diagnosis, according to a 2006 study. The list of cancer therapy's late effects is long and troubling. It includes not just second cancers but strokes, bone damage, and obesity. Lungs can scar and stiffen, making it hard to breathe. Heart muscles can weaken and become flabby, unable to pump blood. Not everyone develops problems, however; 25% remain healthy. As the number of survivors has grown, so has the field of late-effects research. But many questions remain. Few childhood cancer survivors have been followed for more than 30 years. Little research has been done on cancer survivors diagnosed as adults. Also unknown are the molecular mechanisms that cause many late effects. A small number of researchers have turned to genetics to help untangle the problem. Other scientists interested in late effects recently formed an international group to pool data on gene variants that increase the risks for patients who carry them. Their goal is to develop a stronger grasp on the biology behind these late effects, identify the cancer patients who are predisposed, and tailor their treatments accordingly.