Late and long-term effects of cancer treatment in young adults
Young adults who have had cancer are at risk for late effects from their treatment. It’s important to discuss what these possible effects might be with your medical team.
The risks depend on a number of factors, such as the type of cancer, and the types and doses of treatments used. A person’s age when getting treatment is also important. Some organs and body systems can still be growing and developing in younger adults, which can make them more sensitive to treatments like chemo and radiation therapy.
Late effects can involve more than one part of the body (or more than one organ system) and can range from mild to severe. They can include things like:
- Impaired fertility (ability to have children) in both women and men
- Increased risk of developing another cancer later in life
- Heart or lung problems (from certain chemo drugs or radiation to the chest)
- Hearing or vision problems (from certain chemo drugs or radiation to the head)
- Problems with other organs, such as the kidneys or bones
- Pain or swelling in parts of the body
- Hormone deficiencies
Just as the treatment of cancer in young adults requires a specialized approach, so does aftercare and watching for late effects. Careful follow-up after cancer treatment allows doctors to find and treat any late effects as early as possible. The follow-up schedule depends on many things, including the type of cancer, the treatments used, and the risk of late effects from those treatments.
It’s very important to discuss possible long-term complications of treatment with your health care team, and to make sure there’s a plan to watch for these problems and treat them, if needed. Your health care team can help you know what to watch for.
The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) is the world’s largest group of doctors and other health professionals devoted to treating cancer in children and teens. To help raise awareness of late effects of cancer treatment and improve follow-up care of childhood, teen, and young adult cancer survivors throughout their lives, the COG has developed long-term follow-up guidelines. The guidelines can help you know what to watch for, what type of screening tests should be done to look for problems, and how late effects can be treated.
To learn more, ask your doctors about the COG survivor guidelines. You can also find them online at www.survivorshipguidelines.org The guidelines are written for health care professionals, but patient versions of some of the guidelines are available, too (as “Health Links”).
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), a collection of many of the nation’s leading cancer centers, also has follow-up test recommendations for teen and young adult cancer survivors. While the guidelines are written for health professionals, a patient version (which includes information on many aspects of being diagnosed with cancer as a teen or young adult) is available at www.nccn.org/patients/guidelines/aya/index.html.
It’s certainly normal to want to put the cancer and its treatment behind you and to get back to a life that doesn’t revolve around cancer. But it’s very important to understand that continued follow-up with your health care team is a key part of this process and gives you the best chance for a full recovery and long-term survival.
Last Medical Review: 02/18/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2015