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Childhood cancer survivors at greater risk of being hospitalized later: Study

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A new study surveyed cancer survivors who were treated for the disease between 1995 and 2005 and were at least five years past their diagnoses. 52% of childhood cancer survivors were more likely to be hospitalized than control groups, with 67% more hospital admissions.

The dismal statistics reflect the health problems associated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. While childhood cancer is considered the most treatable, and the rarest, the disease accounts for only 1% of all cancer diagnoses-side effects from treatment can severely reduce quality of life for survivors.

"We've done a great job at improving outcomes for pediatric patients, but these patients have several decades of life after their cancer therapy, and the health problems they face require better prevention and treatment," says Anne Kirchhoff, the lead author of the study, which was published on Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, an American Association for Cancer Research journal. 

Researchers that looked at survivors of central nervous system tumors, neuroblastoma or malignant bone tumors found that more than 10% were hospitalized at least five times during the follow-up period. Reasons for hospitalizations include anemia and other blood disorders and cancer, whether or not the cancer is of a different form than before is unknown. Additional culprits are problems in the nervous system, respiratory difficulties, and infections.

In the study, both female survivors and male survivors were more likely than their control (cancer-free) counterparts to be hospitalized later in life. Female survivors had a longer average length of hospitalization than their controls. Kirchhoff hopes to understand the reason behind these numbers upon further analysis.

Without knowing exactly why childhood cancer survivors are more likely to be hospitalized later in life, not much can be done in the way of preventive measures.

However, insurance provisions may help by expanding the age of coverage, prohibiting insurance denials based on current health status and getting rid of limits to healthcare. Kirchhoff is hopeful that such measures, as delineated in the Affordable Care Act, will motivate parents and families of childhood cancer survivors to get check-ups and identify any potential problems at an earlier stage.

Ensuring access to their cancer treatment summaries and oncologists' follow-up recommendations for their primary-care doctors is also a preventive step that may help lessen hospitalizations and improve quality of life for survivors.

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