Improvements in cancer treatment mean that more children are surviving their disease and are going on to live long and productive lives. However, as a result of their treatment, many of these survivors will also face numerous challenges in their young adult years.
With funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, Mary McBride hopes her research will ultimately ensure that these survivors will receive the post-treatment support they need.
“We have had a lot of success in treating childhood cancer, but we don’t know much about the long-term effects of cancer treatment that could put this group at risk of serious and ongoing medical, psychological, educational and social problems,” says McBride, who is evaluating the lifetime impact of childhood cancer treatments on survivors diagnosed before age 25.
“Our research will help better identify this group and, for the first time, document the problems they may be facing as a result of treatment.”
It is especially important to understand the needs of this group of young survivors for a couple of reasons, McBride says:
- they are receiving treatment at a time when they are facing physical and developmental changes and treatment will affect them in ways that that it wouldn’t affect fully grown adults;
- this group faces isolation and socialization issues at a time when they are developing the social skills that will eventually allow them to live independently.
Vikram Bubber understands these challenges. Bubber was just 5 years old when he was diagnosed with a cancer in the middle ear. He was treated successfully and was cancer-free for over 20 years. In 2006 however, Bubber was diagnosed with a new cancer on his cheekbone. This cancer, also treated successfully, was the result of the radiation treatment he received as a child.
“It takes more than 'being cured' to survive cancer. Cancer takes a chunk out of you. It takes you away from the normal timeline of your life, and then you have to get back on track,” Bubber says.
Bubber is now participating in McBride’s study because he hopes that it will eventually help children that are now being treated for cancer and are going to be facing these issues as young adults. He adds that he also knows the impact research can have.
“When I got my second cancer, I experienced how treatment had changed. I may have had 2 days of weakness and then I was back at work,” he says. “I know first-hand that research is making a difference.”
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.