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COPENHAGEN, Sept 24 (AFP) - Children's chances of surviving cancer have increased dramatically over the last four decades, a European cancer conference heard on Wedesday -- but so have the long-term side effects resulting from treatment.
Some 70 percent of child patients survived for five years or more after developing cancer in the 1990s, compared with just 23 percent in 1960, a British cancer expert said.
Jill Mann, a cancer consultant at Birmingham Children's Hospital as well as a university professor, said only about one in five child cancer survivors had no serious medical problem to contend with as a result of their treatment -- and many had several.
"It's a mixture of good news and bad news," Mann told the ECCO 12 European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"The number of patients surviving beyond five years has increased substantially from the 1960s to the 1990s, but the majority of patients have some form of side effect from their treatment and/or their illness, which requires medical intervention."
Of the one-third of child cancer patients who suffered from leukaemia, the majority were treated with radiotherapy to the head which often damaged their ability to produce hormones, leading to reductions in overall height and a tendency to obesity and metabolic disorders, Mann said.
"Some of them also have learning difficulties, especially if they had received irradiation at a young age."
Cancer treatments also caused problems with the thyroid gland, fertility, mental performance, mobility, eyesight, hearing and teeth, she said.
Exposure to anti-cancer drugs also caused cardiac problems later on, but these were treatable and did not prevent patients living normal lives.
Mann called for better coordinated follow-up care for survivors of childhood cancer to monitor and treat their long-term side effects.
"Many of these complications are compatible with a normal life style and life span so long as they are diagnosed and treated adequately," she said.
"But work is needed to determine the most efficient and cost-effective way to follow these patients so that they achieve the maximum quality and quantity of life."
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