Childhood cancer survivors have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease, according to a report published in BMJ (2009;339:b4606).

To study the cardiac outcomes in a cohort of adult survivors of childhood and adolescent cancer Daniel Mulrooney, MD, from the University of Minnesota, and colleagues compared data from 14 358 5-year cancer survivors with 3,899 siblings of cancer survivors. All participants were diagnosed before the age of 21 and had one of the following cancers: leukemia, brain cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, neuroblastoma, soft tissue sarcoma, or bone cancer. Questionnaires about health, medical conditions, and surgical procedures since diagnosis were completed by the study participants or their parents.

The findings revealed that children and adolescents who survive cancer have a greater risk for developing a variety of cardiovascular complications related to their cancer therapy. These complications include, but are not limited to, heart failure, heart attacks, inflammation of the heart, and heart valve abnormalities.

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Additionally, researchers reported that the risk of heart disease is apparent at lower exposures to drugs used for chemotherapy and radiation therapy than previously thought.

“Young adults who survive childhood and adolescent cancer are clearly at risk for early cardiac morbidity and mortality not typically recognized within this age group,” Dr Mulrooney concluded. “Such individuals require ongoing clinical monitoring, particularly as they approach ages in which cardiovascular disease becomes more prevalent.”