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HEALTH REPORT - Cancer Drugs Save Children's Lives But Come With Risks

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Doctors say very few children survived cancer before the nineteen seventies. Improved treatments now offer hope of long-term survival for almost eighty percent of young cancer patients. Yet the chemotherapy drugs and radiation used to stop their cancers can lead to other problems later.

A newly reported study looked at more than ten thousand adults who survived childhood cancers. They were treated between nineteen seventy and ninety eighty-six. Their average age at the time of the study was twenty-six.

The study compared their medical histories with those of three thousand of their brothers and sisters.

The researchers found that sixty-two percent of the cancer survivors had at least one long-term health problem. The same was true of only thirty-seven percent of the brothers and sisters.

The cancer survivors were eight times as likely as their siblings to have severe or life-threatening conditions as adults. And many of the survivors had three or more conditions.

The cancer survivors were at higher risk of problems like heart disease and early bone loss. Chemotherapy can damage bone growth during an important period of development. And radiation for some cancers can increase the risk of other cancers later.

Survivors of bone cancers, cancers of the central nervous system and Hodgkin's disease were at highest risk for health problems as adults. The study also found that girls who survived cancer were more likely than boys to have problems later.

Doctors say newer cancer treatments are a little safer but not much. Still, the good news is that many of the conditions linked to cancer treatments can be found when they are still treatable.

Kevin Oeffinger of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York was lead author of the study. He says doctors should watch closely for problems as childhood cancer survivors get older. He says doctors should also be sure to provide information about problems that a child cancer patient might expect in the future. And he says it is especially important for survivors to eat right, exercise and not smoke.

The report is from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. The findings appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. You can get more health news and download MP3 files and transcripts of our reports at www.unsv.com. I'm Mario Ritter.

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