Long-term follow-up and issues

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Cancer and cancer treatment can affect people long after their therapy has finished. The excellent high cure rates means more and more people survive their childhood cancer. Cure sometimes comes at a price of impaired health- physical and/or psychological-emotional. This means that more people are living with the long-term effects of cancer treatments. Health problems as a result of treatment that occur months or even years afterwards are called ‘late effects.’

Late effects

Some long-term issues need to be monitored throughout your child’s life. This will depend on your child’s age when they were diagnosed, and the type of cancer and treatments they had. Issues may include:

  • Heart and lung problems. Some chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause heart or lung problems.
  • Physical development. Some chemotherapy and radiation therapy may affect the development of bones, teeth, the digestive system, or hearing and vision.
  • Learning problems. Some cancer treatments can affect long-term learning. Some children may need extra assistance to help them keep up with their peers in school.
  • Emotional issues. Emotional wellbeing may be affected long after treatment ends. See Emotional wellbeing for more information.
  • Social issues. Your child’s social skills may be a bit behind other children their age, especially if they had lots of time off school.
  • Sexual development and fertility issues. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery, can affect a child’s sexual organs. This may result in delays or infertility.
  • Second cancers. Some treatments can increase the chances of subsequently developing a different type of cancer later in life. These are called second cancers.

Every child is different and not all will experience these issues. Cancer survivors must continue to monitor their health with regular visits and follow-up tests throughout their life. It is very important that a regular family doctor that can provide this supervision be identified.

It’s a good idea to talk about the risk of these potential problems with your oncologist when they are explaining treatment options (see How is cancer treated?). However, if your child develops any problems, they may need to be monitored or treated for a long time.

For these reasons, it’s important to keep a record of all of your child’s treatments. They will need this information in the future, so doctors know their complete medical history when assessing them for health conditions throughout life.

Staying healthy

Because cancer survivors are at risk of some late effects, staying healthy becomes even more important. Making some lifestyle changes will set a positive example for your family and help them all develop good health habits. Positive lifestyle changes now will also help to lessen the seriousness of any late effects for your child in the future.

Positive lifestyle changes include:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • getting regular exercise
  • limiting alcohol
  • stopping smoking and any illicit drug use
  • sun protection
  • maintaining ideal body weight

For more information about staying healthy, ask your doctor or see Cancer Australia’s Healthy living webpage.