Page last updated at 00:32 GMT, Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Childhood cancer heart checks urged

Doctor examining a child
Problems may arise years after treatment

Children who battle and survive cancer run a higher risk of heart problems and must be closely screened, say experts.

Aggressive cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can harm the heart, multiplying the patient's death risk by seven, data shows.

UK guidelines recommend routine heart trace checks every five years.

But many survivors currently receive no follow-up, US doctors, who studied data on 14,000 childhood cancer survivors, say in an article published at bmj.com.

With the number of survivors steadily rising thanks to improved cancer care, health workers need to look out for signs of heart problems in their patients, say the specialist cancer doctors.

Survivors questioned

Most checks have focused on heart damage related to a cancer drug called anthracycline.

But latest work shows that young adult cancer survivors are at risk for a variety of cardiovascular complications, including heart attacks, inflammation of the heart and heart valve abnormalities, as late as 30 years after therapy.

The largest study on the issue yet, which looked at data from more than 14,000 childhood cancer survivors, also shows damage can occur at lower exposures and with more types of cancer treatment than previously appreciated.

Lead researcher Professor Daniel Mulrooney, of the University of Minnesota, said that young adults who survived childhood or adolescent cancer were at risk of serious heart problems not usually recognised within their age group.

"Such individuals require ongoing clinical monitoring, particularly as they approach ages in which cardiovascular disease becomes more prevalent."

Confirming responses

Professor Mike Hawkins, a childhood cancer survival expert from the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "This study is useful in helping healthcare professionals understand the risks of heart disease for those who have had cancer as a child or teenager - and especially which groups will be most at risk."

However, he said that while the research was based on feedback given by survivors who filled in a questionnaire reporting heart disease, the questionnaire responses were not confirmed by doctors.

He said Cancer Research UK was currently confirming all reports of heart disease in this group.

"This will provide valuable information about the best ways to monitor and help young British cancer survivors."



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