Nearly 20,000 children in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with cancer. The good news: almost 80 percent can be cured of their disease. But they also may suffer long term health effects due to the very treatments that cure them.
In the U.S. alone there are 270,000 survivors of childhood cancer. But at what cost? In the largest long-term follow-up study ever conducted on these patients, researchers found that the "cure" often causes a host of chronic illnesses later in life.
Caroline Lane is seven years old, and she's already all too familiar with chemotherapy.
"I have osteocercoma," Caroline says. "It's a kind of bone cancer."
Caroline gets chemo treatments every other week for most of the year.
"This is only my fourth round but I'm getting used to it," she said.
Tyler Roeser is 13 and fighting brain cancer. This is his 22nd round of radiation.
The study released tonight says the long-term side effects of children's cancer treaments are actually more common than doctors and survivors ever realized. Children getting chemotherapy or radiation are eight times more likely to develop severe health problems in their 20's and 30's includin heart attacks and strokes, second cancers such as breast and thyroid cancer, premature menopause and major joint replacement
"These patients, because they're not grown, because they're not fully developed, are more vulnerable to drugs and radiation," said Dr. Lisa Diller of the Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center.
Beth Owens got chemotherapy when she was a year-and-half. Today, at 33, she's feeling the side-effects.
"The last bone density test, they actually told me I had the bones of a 70 year-old woman," Owens said.
Doctors say giving children chemotherapy or radiation does not have to mean a lifetime of suffering. Many of the most severe complications can be managed, or even prevented, with better follow-up care.
For example, doctors are now learning that girls who got radiation need annual mammograms starting at age 25. And all kids who got chemotherapy can require heart screening and bone density tests in their 20s -- decades earlier than normal. But for children battling cancer... and their families, now is no tthe time to worry about long-term side effects.
"We know that it's difficult and it will take it's toll in some ways but this is what we have to do to have our daughter survive. And we know she will," said Kelly Lane, Caroline's mother.
"I'm doing OK," said Caroline. "They're giving me chemo and I'm doing better… I just take it every step at a time."