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Helping Childhood Cancer Survivors Navigate Later Years

Most develop chronic health problems in adulthood

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July 31, 2013

The powerful cancer treatments that save children's lives often have a toxic kickback in the form of long-term chronic health problems as patients get older. A story in the July 31 Chicago Tribune reports on those problems and a program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University that focuses on the health care of adults who are survivors of childhood cancer.

The STAR program -- Survivors Taking Action & Responsibility -- is a clinical, research and education program for adult survivors of childhood cancer. STAR was started and is coordinated by Karen Kinahan, a pediatric oncology nurse. 

"The cure rate for most childhood cancers is 80 percent, and that's pretty good," Kinahan told Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice in the story that ran on the front page of the Health & Family section. "But it's not good for someone to be cured of cancer only to have other lasting problems."

Childhood survivors are more vulnerable to early breast cancer and other secondary cancers, heart disease, brain tumors, fragile bones, depression and anxiety.

STAR offers psychological counseling, medical treatment and preventive care such as cancer screenings, bone density scans, hormone tests, EKG and echocardiograms and mammograms, the Tribune story said. Many of STAR’s patients come from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital and transfer into the program when they're about 20 to 25 years old and at least five years post-diagnosis.

Kinahan recently produced a web video for childhood survivors to teach them about the long-term effects. The video includes the voices of young adult survivors as well as Northwestern doctors who specialize in this field.

Many people, including physicians, aren’t aware of the long-term health risks of childhood cancer treatments, the Tribune story noted.

Topics: Research