From the Journals

Late effects in young cancer survivors underscore importance of high-risk screening



Adolescent and young adult cancer survivors have higher standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) than the general population but lower ratios than childhood cancer survivors, according to data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study.


At a median follow-up of 21 years, the SMR for all-cause mortality was 5.9 among survivors aged 15-20 years and 6.2 among diagnosis-matched children under 15 years, compared with expected rates at the same ages in the general population. For health-related causes – excluding primary cancer recurrence or progression but including late effects of cancer therapy – the SMRs were 4.8 in the older group and 6.8 in the younger group.

Eugene Suh, MD, of Loyola University Chicago Medical Center, Maywood, Ill., and colleagues reported these results in Lancet Oncology.

The difference between the older and younger survivors (n = 5,804 in each group) was most evident at least 20 years after cancer diagnosis, the authors noted.

For both groups, but more so for childhood cancer survivors, the risk of developing any chronic health condition and any grade 3-5 health condition was greater than for siblings of the same age who did not have cancer (hazard ratios, 4.2 for adolescents/young adults and 5.6 for childhood survivors). The same was true for grade 3-5 cardiac conditions (HRs, 4.3 and 5.6, respectively), endocrine conditions (HRs, 3.9 and 6.4, respectively), and musculoskeletal conditions (HRs, 6.5 and 8.0, respectively).

These findings, which confirm those of previous studies suggesting that younger children might be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of cancer treatment, “underscore that focused efforts are needed to ensure early-adolescent and young adult cancer survivors are receiving recommended risk-based care, with a focus on high-risk cancer screening, to reduce morbidity and premature mortality,” the researchers concluded, noting that “studies to date indicate that adherence to such high-risk screening is poor.”

In a related editorial, Päivi Lähteenmäki, MD, PhD, of University of Turku (Finland) and Turku University Hospital, wrote that these findings warrant long-term follow-up of adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. She also argued that the results “might not be fully generalizable to patients treated today who might be on different treatment regimens to those treated in previous decades” and that “[m]ore prospectively collected objective data focusing on survivors ... are needed.”

Accurate characterization of patients at high risk who would benefit from a tailored screening program is most important, and identifying underlying genetic or molecular factors that confer higher risk for late sequelae would be useful for “planning approaches to survivorship,” Dr. Lähteenmäki added.

This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and American Lebanese-Syrian Associated Charities. Dr. Suh and Dr. Lähteenmäki reported having no competing interests.

SOURCES: Suh E et al. Lancet Oncology. 2020 Feb 14. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(19)30800-9;Lähteenmäki P. Lancet Oncol. 2020 Feb 14. doi: 10.106/S1470-2045(19)30858-7.

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