Why health risks persist for young cancer survivors

Teen and young adult cancer survivors are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalised as those who haven't had cancer, a new study finds.

"Few studies have investigated health risk in adolescents and young adults after cancer treatment," said study author Chelsea Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Cancer Society.

She and her colleagues from the University of Utah and the University of North Carolina analysed data from 6 330 cancer survivors in Utah between ages 15 and 39; about 13 000 of their siblings, and more than 18 000 unrelated people in the same age group without cancer.

The risk of a first hospitalisation was 1.8 times higher for cancer survivors than for their siblings and 1.9 times higher than for others without cancer.

Risk varied by type of cancer.

Double the risk

Compared with the other groups, the risk of a first hospitalisation was 4.8 times higher among leukaemia survivors; 3.5 times higher for those who had central nervous system tumours; 2.8 times higher for those who had colon cancer; 2.8 times higher among survivors of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and 2.4 times for breast cancer survivors.

Among cancer survivors, the risk of first hospitalisation was lowest among those who had cervical/uterine cancers and melanoma.

The rate of total hospitalisations was 56% higher among cancer survivors than for other groups.

Cancer survivors had more than double the risk for several infectious and parasitic diseases; nervous system and circulatory disorders; skin diseases; respiratory conditions; injury, and poisoning.

They also had a slightly higher risk for digestive, mental, musculoskeletal, and genitourinary diseases.

Guidelines for follow-up care

"Our results underscore the importance of long-term, risk-based follow-up care to prevent and treat severe late effects and other health conditions in this patient population," Anderson said.

The study was published recently in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Each year, about 70 000 American teens and young adults are diagnosed with cancer. Five-year survival rates are more than 80% – meaning there are many survivors at increased risk of health problems later in life as a result of their cancer treatment.

"A better understanding of the burden of hospitalisations among [teen and young adult] cancer survivors may help to anticipate future health care utilisation in more recently diagnosed patients," Anderson said in a journal news release. "These findings may also inform the development of guidelines for follow-up care for adolescent and young adult cancer survivors."

Image credit: iStock

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