Dark Side of Being Cured of Childhood Cancer

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For cancer survivors, health problems start to appear in early adulthood and continue to add up over a patient's lifetime.

Sadly, the elation of being labeled "cured" is replaced by shock and anger when other health problems occur.

It can be hard for families to comprehend the magnitude of these risks "at the time of diagnosis and treatment," said Dr. Melissa Hudson, director of the Cancer Survivorship Division at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Lauren said, "I had no idea my cancer would affect my lungs."

It is important for primary-care doctors to be on the front lines of monitoring cancer survivors, but access to care is a serious obstacle.

"Health insurance is difficult to get or afford if you are a cancer patient," Oeffinger said.

Survival: Rule Rather Than the Exception

Despite the bothersome findings, "there is definitely a silver lining," Oeffinger said.

More than 98 percent of childhood cancer survivors were still alive at the study's conclusion, a feat that would have been almost unimaginable 50 years ago.

"There is always a chance that you can get all kinds of bad things, but at the time what are your choices?" Lauren's mother asked.

Now doctors can begin to improve the treatments that are responsible for the lingering health problems.

Efforts by the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and organizations like the Lance Armstrong Foundation will someday help cancer patients live longer and healthier lives.

"The No. 1 lesson is that we have to pay attention to long-term consequences," said Les Robison, chair of epidemiology and cancer control at St. Jude.

Experts say the best thing survivors can do is to arm themselves with knowledge of their medical history.

Educating patients and their parents about the dark side of being cured of childhood cancer will not only keep patients cancer free but also disease free.

Lauren's advice to cancer patients is simple: "It might not be over as soon as the treatment is over, but you'll get there."

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