TUESDAY, May 29, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Adult survivors of childhood cancer can suffer emotional problems and reduced quality of life because of the long-term physical effects of their cancer treatment, a new study finds.
Researchers used data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study to assess the effects of scarring, disfigurement and persistent hair loss experienced by more than 14,000 adult survivors of childhood cancer. The survivors were compared to siblings who did not have childhood cancer.
Survivors with persistent hair loss had an increased risk of anxiety; female survivors with persistent hair loss had an increased risk of depressive symptoms; and survivors with a head or neck, arm or leg disfigurement had an increased risk of depression.
The findings were published May 21 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
"The results show that cancer treatments can affect childhood cancer survivors' physical appearances and their quality of life long after they turn 18," study first author Karen Kinahan, an advanced practice nurse at Northwestern University, said in a university news release.
"I have patients who are asymmetrical because of radiation treatments, others with scars on their faces and necks from biopsies and surgeries and some who've had the amputation of a limb," she noted.
"The results of this study help illustrate the complex chain of events childhood cancer can have on quality of life as an adult," senior author Kevin Krull, an associate member in the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital departments of epidemiology and cancer control and psychology, said in the news release.
"We have long been aware that radiation therapy is associated with increased risk for emotional distress and social problems, though we did not fully understand the process this involves. The current study begins to map this process," Krull noted.
Kinahan added that efforts to improve coping skills and emotional adjustment should be implemented for patients at highest risk. "A natural next step would be to make efforts to minimize alterations to the physical appearance of pediatric cancer patients during diagnosis and treatment," she said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about the long-term effects of treatment for childhood cancer.