Childhood Cancer Survivors Face Elevated Risk of Autoimmune Diseases

Pharmacy Times, June 2016 Women's Health, Volume 82, Issue 6

Patients who survive cancer as children could be susceptible to a variety of autoimmune diseases later in life.

Patients who survive cancer as children could be susceptible to a variety of autoimmune diseases later in life, according to recent study. The study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, analyzed data on more than 20,000 adults who had had cancer before 20 years of age and survived for at least 1 year, as well as nearly 126,000 people, matched for age, gender, and country of birth, who did not have cancer as children. The health of all the participants was tracked for about 15 to 19 years.

The research team determined that 3.6% of childhood cancer survivors had at least 1 episode of hospital treatment for any autoimmune condition compared with only 0.4% of patients without cancer; this constituted a 40% increased risk. Patients who had had leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney cancer, or central nervous system tumors as children were found to be particularly at risk of developing an autoimmune disorder in later life, as they were nearly 60% more likely to do so than those who did not have cancer.

The study authors offered several potential explanations for this increased risk, including the possibility that the patients’ immune systems were altered by both the cancer treatment and the disease itself, leading to the production of immunologically different antigens and autoantibodies.

“Cure is no longer a sufficient goal in childhood cancer care,” the study authors wrote. “As the vast majority of these patients survive, attention must be paid to their long-term quality of life and health challenges.”