Cancer survivors’ limitations might be linked to treatment

Survivors of leukemia were least likely to report physical limitation problems.

Jeannine Aquino

The physical impairments that childhood cancer survivors experience as adults may be linked to the type of cancer they had and the treatment they received, a Cancer Center study reports.

The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, led by Kirsten Ness, a cancer epidemiologist with the University Cancer Center and Department of Pediatrics, is one of the first to study these impairments in adult cancer survivors.

Ness decided to lead research in this area because the relationship had not been documented.

“People who have physical disabilities would have difficulty accessing their environment,” Ness said. “In order to develop appropriate intervention, you first have to document it.”

Information from approximately 11,500 survivors was analyzed in this ongoing, multi-institutional study. Participants in the study had been treated before the age of 21 for primary brain cancer, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, kidney tumor, neuroblastoma and soft-tissue sarcoma or malignant bone cancer, and had survived at least five years after diagnosis. Their information was then compared with that of 3,839 siblings of childhood cancer survivors.

“We found that 20 percent of cancer survivors had some limitations in physical performance,” Ness said.

Physical performance includes such activities as running, climbing stairs, bending, lifting, stooping, walking, eating and dressing.

Ness also reported in an article published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine” that 26.6 percent of brain cancer and 36.9 percent of bone cancer survivors were most likely to report performance limitation, which is the restricted ability to attend work or school.

Survivors of leukemia were least likely to report these problems.

“I think it’s a brilliant study to look at this and begin to describe some of the physical limitations of cancer survivors,” said Daniel Mulrooney, the medical director of the Long-term Follow-Up Clinic at the Cancer Center.

He said previous studies had focused only on medically oriented late effects and not on issues important to everyday life.

Public relations sophomore and cancer survivor Jenna Langer said the study will be useful in individualizing treatments for cancer patients “instead of doing basic protocol treatment for everyone.”

Ness recommended long-term follow-up care and physical rehabilitation to help overcome or lessen the severity of physical limitations.