Beating Cancer as a Kid, Only to Fight It Again as an Adult

Beating Cancer as a Kid, Only to Fight It Again as an Adult

For 32-year-old Casey Quinn of Minneapolis, Minn., cancer screenings have become a regular routine.

"I'm so used to it being an annual part of my life," he said.

Quinn is a survivor of childhood cancer. At the age of 17, doctors diagnosed him with his first cancer -- a collection of tumors in his colon. The decade and a half that followed became a reoccurring fight against cancers that surfaced through subsequent screenings, a battle that meant multiple surgeries, harsh treatments and the loss of his right leg.

VIDEO: New study finds childhood cancer survivors often miss critical follow-up care.
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Despite the fact that Quinn has not always received good news during his screenings, he said that the decision to keep monitoring his cancer is a simple choice.

"I would certainly recommend always having a checkup," he said. "I think a lot of it has to be in your own hands."

Quinn's philosophy, however, may be different from that of a number of childhood cancer survivors like him. Research presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology revealed that many survivors of childhood cancers may not keep up with recommended screenings for breast, colon and skin cancer as they grow older.

The finding came from an analysis of the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, a comprehensive, long-term follow-up study of childhood cancer patients.

Specifically, among childhood cancer survivors at increased risk for a second cancer, only 11 percent reported a colonoscopy within the recommended five-year period. Only 30 percent said they had a mammogram within the recommended one-year period, and just 27 percent reported a skin exam.

The figures are especially troubling because children who are treated for cancer -- especially when radiation therapy is involved -- face an increased risk of cancer later on in life.

Lead researcher of the new study Dr. Paul Nathan of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto said, "We were surprised to find that many survivors of childhood cancer are not following surveillance guidelines that may detect new cancers during their earlier, more curable stages."

Nathan said part of the reason behind the finding may be that the family doctors who see these patients may not have a complete knowledge of how childhood cancers survivors should be followed.

But Dr. Aziza Shad, director of pediatric hematology/oncology and director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., said that while this may be the case, the patients themselves may also avoid these screenings.

"I think there are many reasons for it," Shad said. "There is a lot of trauma in treatment, and when I say trauma I'm saying emotional trauma as well as physical trauma. [Screenings] just bring back bad memories. ... They want to feel a sense of normalcy."

Regardless of the reason, the finding has big implications. Shad said there are currently 270,000 childhood cancer survivors living in the United States. She said that past research has shown that a majority of those treated for childhood cancer in the 1970s and '80s still live with the effects of the treatment.

"Seventy-five percent of those [patients] live with some kind of a chronic ailment," she said.

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