By Eric Tai, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
More than 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in the United States. Because treatment options continue to improve, more than 80% of those children will survive at least five years after their diagnosis.
A Unique Set of Needs
Having cancer while they are still growing can lead to problems for children later in life:
- Second cancers: Survivors of childhood cancer may be more likely to get another type of cancer later in their lives.
- Reproductive problems: Fertility may be an issue for survivors of childhood cancer.
- Mental, emotional, and social issues: Treatment for cancer in childhood can lead to problems with behavior, emotions, thinking skills, social skills, and school performance. These could make dealing with family members and friends more difficult and in time could make it harder for childhood cancer survivors to find jobs or get health insurance and health care.
- Chronic diseases: Survivors of childhood cancer may be at risk for heart, lung, and other chronic problems later in life.
The Oncology Nurse’s Role
- Go by the book: If you care for patients who had childhood cancer, use the Children’s Oncology Group Long-Term Follow Up-Guidelines. The guidelines include a list of possible health problems that childhood cancer survivors could have as well as follow-up activities, such as screening, evaluation, and counseling, to help survivors live their best lives going forward.
- Encourage whole-body health: Studies have shown that cancer survivors of any age do better after treatment when they eat healthy foods, get regular physical activity, and avoid harmful behaviors, such as using tobacco.
- Build a bridge: A healthcare history should follow any patient from childhood to adult medical care. It’s especially important to make sure childhood cancer survivors have a network of healthcare providers as adults. A smooth transition includes creating a survivorship care plan for cancer prevention in the future, that health records are complete, and that the long-term effects keep getting treated. Oncology nurses are largely accountable for preparing and delivering survivorship care plans and resources to patients.
Childhood cancer survivors face a unique set of challenges. Your work as part of the team guiding them through treatment and beyond helps give them tools to manage the long-term impacts of cancer.