ASCO: Mortality for childhood cancer survivors continues to decline

ASCO: Longevity Improving for Childhood Cancer Survivors
ASCO: Longevity Improving for Childhood Cancer Survivors

(HealthDay News) -- Mortality rates among five-year childhood cancer survivors 15 years after diagnosis have been halved since the 1970s -- falling from 12.4 to 6 percent, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, held from May 29 to June 2 in Chicago.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded study included data on the long-term health outcomes of 34,043 five-year survivors of childhood cancer who received their diagnosis between 1970 and 1999. The researchers assessed mortality rates among the participants by analyzing a computerized index of death record information. Five-year survivors were followed for an average of 21 years after diagnosis.

The researchers found that 12 percent died during that time. Forty-one percent of these deaths were from other health-related causes, including the lingering effects of cancer therapy, the study authors said. But total deaths from other health-related causes dropped from 3.5 to 2.1 percent in this time period. Children diagnosed more recently had a significantly lower risk of death from other health problems, including cancer or heart or lung disease, the study authors found.

Lower death rates were mainly attributed to fewer deaths from late effects of cancer treatment. This trend was most obvious among survivors of Wilms tumor, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the researchers said. "While the modernization of cancer therapy has probably made the most significant difference, improvements in supportive care for survivors, and screening, detection, and treatment of late effects, like new cancers and heart and lung disease, have played an important role in extending their life span as well," lead author Gregory Armstrong, M.D., said in a news release from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Armstrong is a pediatric oncologist at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

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