National Cancer Institute

Serious, disabling, and life-threatening chronic health conditions adversely affect the health of aging childhood cancer survivors. Learn about the cardiovascular, cognitive, psychosocial, digestive, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and urinary late effects and subsequent neoplasms that contribute to a high burden of morbidity in childhood cancer survivors.

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the late effects of treatment for childhood cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Late Effects of Childhood Cancer Treatment

Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer

General Information About Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer

During the past five decades, dramatic progress has been made in the development of curative therapy for pediatric malignancies. Long-term survival into adulthood is the expectation for more than 80% of children with access to contemporary therapies for pediatric malignancies. The therapy responsible for this survival can also produce adverse long-term health-related outcomes, referred to as , which manifest months to years after completion of cancer treatment.

A variety of approaches have been used to advance knowledge about the very long-term morbidity associated with childhood cancer and its contribution to early mortality. These initiatives have utilized a spectrum of resources including investigation of data from the following:

  • Population-based registries.
  • Self-reported outcomes (provided through large-scale cohort studies).
  • Medical assessments.

Studies reporting outcomes in survivors who have been well characterized in regards to clinical status and treatment exposures, and comprehensively ascertained for specific effects through medical assessments, typically provide the highest quality of data to establish the occurrence and risk profiles for late cancer treatment–related toxicity. Regardless of study methodology, it is important to consider selection and participation bias of the cohort studies in the context of the findings reported.

Prevalence of Late Effects in Childhood Cancer Survivors

Late effects are commonly experienced by adults who have survived childhood cancer; the prevalence of late effects increases as time from cancer diagnosis elapses. Population-based studies support excess hospital-related morbidity among childhood and young adult cancer survivors compared with age- and sex-matched controls.

Research has demonstrated that among adults treated for cancer during childhood, late effects contribute to a high burden of morbidity, including the following:

  • 60% to more than 90% develop one or more chronic health conditions.
  • 20% to 80% experience severe or life-threatening complications during adulthood.

Using the cumulative burden metric—which incorporates multiple health conditions and recurrent events into a single metric that takes into account competing risks—by age 50 years, survivors in the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort experienced an average of 17.1 chronic health conditions, 4.7 of which were severe/disabling, life threatening, or fatal. This is in contrast to the cumulative burden in matched community controls who experienced 9.2 chronic health conditions, 2.3 of which were severe/disabling, life threatening, or fatal (refer to Figure 1).

Charts showing distribution of cumulative burden by age among childhood cancer survivors of specific pediatric cancer subtypes and community controls participating in St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study.Figure 1. Figure shows distribution of cumulative burden by age among childhood cancer survivors of specific pediatric cancer subtypes and community controls participating in St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study. The cumulative burden at age 30 years and rate of cumulative burden growth is variable across cancer subtypes and organ systems. Reprinted from The Lancet, Volume 390, Issue 10112, Bhakta N, Liu Q, Ness KK, Baassiri M, Eissa H, Yeo F, Chemaitilly W, Ehrhardt MJ, Bass J, Bishop MW, Shelton K, Lu L, Huang S, Li Z, Caron E, Lanctot J, Howell C, Folse T, Joshi V, Green DM, Mulrooney DA, Armstrong GT, Krull KR, Brinkman TM, Khan RB, Srivastava DK, Hudson MM, Yasui Y, Robison LL, The cumulative burden of surviving childhood cancer: an initial report from the St Jude Lifetime Cohort Study (SJLIFE), Pages 2569–2582, Copyright (2017), with permission from Elsevier.

The variability in prevalence is related to differences in the following:

  • Age and follow-up time of the cohorts studied.
  • Methods and consistency of assessment (e.g., self-reported vs. risk-based medical evaluations).
  • Treatment intensity and treatment era.

Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) investigators demonstrated that the elevated risk of morbidity and mortality among aging survivors in the cohort increases beyond the fourth decade of life. By age 50 years, the cumulative incidence of a self-reported severe, disabling, life-threatening, or fatal health condition was 53.6% among survivors, compared with 19.8% among a sibling control group. Among survivors who reached age 35 years without a previous severe, disabling, life-threatening, or fatal health condition, 25.9% experienced a new grade 3 to grade 5 health condition within 10 years, compared with 6.0% of healthy siblings (refer to Figure 2).

The presence of serious, disabling, and life-threatening chronic health conditions adversely affects the health status of aging survivors, with the greatest impact on functional impairment and activity limitations. Predictably, chronic health conditions have been reported to contribute to a higher prevalence of emotional distress symptoms in adult survivors than in population controls. Female survivors demonstrate a steeper trajectory of age-dependent decline in health status than do male survivors. The even-higher prevalence of late effects among clinically ascertained cohorts is related to the subclinical and undiagnosed conditions detected by screening and surveillance measures.

Charts showing the cumulative incidence of chronic health conditions by age among survivors and siblings.Figure 2. Cumulative incidence of chronic health conditions for (A) grades 3 to 5 chronic health conditions, (B) multiple grade 3 to 5 conditions in survivors, (C) multiple grade 3 to 5 conditions in siblings, (D) conditioned based on no previous grade 3 to 5 conditions among survivors by ages 25, 35, or 45, and (E) conditioned based on no previous grade 3 to 5 conditions among siblings by ages 25, 35, or 45. Gregory T. Armstrong, Toana Kawashima, Wendy Leisenring, Kayla Stratton, Marilyn Stovall, Melissa M. Hudson, Charles A. Sklar, Leslie L Robison, Kevin C. Oeffinger; Aging and Risk of Severe, Disabling, Life-Threatening, and Fatal Events in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study; Journal of Clinical Oncology, volume 32, issue 12, pages 1218-1227. Reprinted with permission. © (2014) American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.

CCSS investigators also evaluated the impact of race and ethnicity on late outcomes by comparing late mortality, subsequent neoplasms, and chronic health conditions in Hispanic (n = 750) and non-Hispanic black (n = 694) participants with non-Hispanic white participants (n = 12,397). The following results were observed:

  • Cancer treatment did not account for disparities in mortality, chronic health conditions, or subsequent neoplasms observed among the groups.
  • Differences in socioeconomic status and cardiovascular risk factors affected risk. All-cause mortality was higher among non-Hispanic black participants than among other groups, but this difference disappeared after adjustment for socioeconomic status.
  • Risk of developing diabetes was elevated among racial/ethnic minority groups even after adjustment for socioeconomic status and obesity.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks had a higher likelihood of reporting cardiac conditions, but this risk diminished after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors.
  • Nonmelanoma skin cancer was not reported by non-Hispanic blacks, a finding that has been replicated by others, and Hispanic participants had a lower risk than did non-Hispanic white participants.

Recognition of late effects, concurrent with advances in cancer biology, radiological sciences, and supportive care, has resulted in a change in the prevalence and spectrum of treatment effects. In an effort to reduce and prevent late effects, contemporary therapy for most pediatric malignancies has evolved to a risk-adapted approach that is assigned based on a variety of clinical, biological, and sometimes genetic factors. The CCSS reported that with decreased cumulative dose and frequency of therapeutic radiation use over treatment decades from 1970 to 1999, survivors have experienced a significant decrease in risk of subsequent neoplasms. With the exception of survivors requiring intensive multimodality therapy, sometimes including hematopoietic cell transplantation, for aggressive or refractory/relapsed malignancies, life-threatening treatment effects are relatively uncommon after contemporary therapy in early follow-up (up to 10 years after diagnosis). However, survivors still frequently experience life-altering morbidity related to effects of cancer treatment on endocrine, reproductive, musculoskeletal, and neurologic function.


Late effects also contribute to an excess risk of premature death among long-term survivors of childhood cancer as observed in the following:

  • Several studies of very large cohorts of survivors have reported early mortality among individuals treated for childhood cancer compared with age- and sex-matched general population controls. Relapsed/refractory primary cancer remains the most frequent cause of death, followed by excess cause-specific mortality from subsequent primary cancers, and cardiac and pulmonary toxicity.
  • An analysis of the CCSS and Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) that evaluated conditional survival demonstrated a subsequent 5-year survival rate of 92% or higher among most diagnoses at 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, and 20 years. Among those who had survived at least 5 years from diagnosis, the probability of all-cause mortality in the next 10 years was 8.8% in the CCSS and 10.6% in the SEER study, with neoplasms accounting for cause of death in approximately 75% of survivors.

Despite high premature morbidity rates, overall mortality has decreased over time. This reduction is related to a decrease in deaths from the primary cancer without an associated increase in mortality from subsequent cancers or treatment-related toxicities. The former reflects improvements in therapeutic efficacy, and the latter reflects changes in therapy made subsequent to studying the causes of late effects. The expectation that mortality rates in survivors will continue to exceed those in the general population is based on the long-term sequelae that are likely to increase with attained age. If patients treated on therapeutic protocols are followed up for long periods into adulthood, it will be possible to evaluate the excess lifetime mortality in relation to specific therapeutic interventions.

Monitoring for Late Effects

Recognition of both acute and late modality–specific toxicity has motivated investigations evaluating the pathophysiology and prognostic factors for cancer treatment–related effects. The results of these studies have played an important role in the following areas:

  • Changing pediatric cancer therapeutic approaches to reduce treatment-related mortality among survivors treated in more recent eras.
  • The development of risk counseling and health screening recommendations for long-term survivors by identifying the clinical and treatment characteristics of those at highest risk of treatment complications.

The common late effects of pediatric cancer encompass several broad domains, including the following:

  • Growth and development.
  • Organ function.
  • Reproductive capacity and health of offspring.
  • Secondary carcinogenesis.
  • Psychosocial sequelae related to the primary cancer, its treatment, or maladjustment associated with the cancer experience.

Late sequelae of therapy for childhood cancer can be anticipated based on therapeutic exposures, but the magnitude of risk and the manifestations in an individual patient are influenced by numerous factors. Factors that should be considered in the risk assessment for a given late effect include the following:

  • Tumor location.
  • Direct tissue effects.
  • Tumor-induced organ dysfunction.
  • Mechanical effects.
  • Radiation therapy: Total dose, fraction size, organ or tissue volume, type of machine energy.
  • Chemotherapy: Agent type, dose-intensity, cumulative dose, schedule.
  • Surgery: Technique, site.
  • Hematopoietic cell transplantation.
  • Use of combined modality therapy.
  • Blood product transfusion.
  • Management of chronic graft-versus-host disease.
  • Sex.
  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Premorbid health state.
  • Developmental status.
  • Age at diagnosis.
  • Time from diagnosis/therapy.
  • Inherent tissue sensitivities and capacity for normal tissue repair.
  • Hormonal milieu.
  • Function of organs not affected by cancer treatment.
  • Socioeconomic status.
  • Health habits.

Resources to Support Survivor Care

Risk-based screening

The need for long-term follow-up for childhood cancer survivors is supported by the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, the International Society of Pediatric Oncology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), and the Institute of Medicine. A risk-based medical follow-up is recommended, which includes a systematic plan for lifelong screening, surveillance, and prevention that incorporates risk estimates based on the following:

  • Previous cancer.
  • Cancer therapy.
  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Lifestyle behaviors.
  • Comorbid conditions.
  • Sex.

Part of long-term follow-up is also focused on appropriate screening of educational and vocational progress. Specific treatments for childhood cancer, especially those that directly impact nervous system structures, may result in sensory, motor, and neurocognitive deficits that may have adverse consequences on functional status, educational attainment, and future vocational opportunities. In support of this, a CCSS investigation observed the following:

  • Treatment with cranial radiation doses of 25 Gy or higher was associated with higher odds of unemployment (health related: odds ratio [OR], 3.47; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.54–4.74; seeking work: OR, 1.77; 95% CI, 1.15–2.71).
  • Unemployed survivors reported higher levels of poor physical functioning than employed survivors, had lower education and income, and were more likely to be publicly insured than unemployed siblings.

These data emphasize the importance of facilitating survivor access to remedial services, which has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on education achievement, which may in turn enhance vocational opportunities.

In addition to risk-based screening for medical late effects, the impact of health behaviors on cancer-related health risks is also emphasized. Health-promoting behaviors are stressed for survivors of childhood cancer. Targeted educational efforts appear to be worthwhile in the following areas:

  • Abstinence from smoking, excess alcohol use, and illicit drug use to reduce the risk of organ toxicity and, potentially, subsequent neoplasms.
  • Healthy dietary practices and active lifestyle to reduce treatment-related metabolic and cardiovascular complications.

Proactively addressing unhealthy and risky behaviors is pertinent, as several research investigations confirm that long-term survivors use tobacco and alcohol and have inactive lifestyles at higher rates than is ideal given their increased risk of cardiac, pulmonary, and metabolic late effects.

Access to risk-based survivor care

Most childhood cancer survivors do not receive recommended risk-based care. The CCSS observed the following:

  • 88.8% of survivors reported receiving some form of medical care.
  • 31.5% reported receiving care that focused on their previous cancer (survivor-focused care).
  • 17.8% reported receiving survivor-focused care that included advice about risk reduction and discussion or ordering of screening tests.
  • Surveillance for new cases of cancer was very low in survivors at the highest risk of colon, breast, or skin cancer, suggesting that survivors and their physicians need education about the risk of subsequent neoplasms and recommended surveillance.
  • Sociodemographic factors have been linked to declining rates of follow-up care over time from diagnosis. CCSS participants who were male, had a household income of less than $20,000 per year, and had lower educational attainment (high school education or less) were more likely to report no care at their most recent follow-up survey. This trend is of concern because the prevalence of chronic health conditions increases with longer elapsed time from cancer diagnosis in adults treated for cancer during childhood.

Access to health insurance appears to play an important role in risk-based survivor care. Lack of access to health insurance affects the following:

  • Cancer-related visits. In the CCSS, uninsured survivors were less likely than those privately insured to report a cancer-related visit (adjusted relative risk [RR], 0.83; 95% CI, 0.75–0.91) or a cancer center visit (adjusted RR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.71–0.98). Uninsured survivors had lower levels of utilization in all measures of care than privately insured survivors. In contrast, publicly insured survivors were more likely to report a cancer-related visit (adjusted RR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.11–1.35) or a cancer center visit (adjusted RR, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.18–1.70) than were privately insured survivors.
  • Health outcomes. In a study comparing health care outcomes for long-term survivors of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer with young adults who have no cancer history, the proportion of uninsured survivors did not differ between the two groups.
  • Financial burden. Subgroups of AYA survivors may be at additional risk of facing health care barriers. Younger survivors (aged 20–29 years), females, nonwhites, and survivors reporting poorer health faced more cost barriers, which may inhibit the early detection of late effects.

Overall, lack of health insurance remains a significant concern for survivors of childhood cancer because of health issues, unemployment, and other societal factors. Legislation, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), has improved access and retention of health insurance among survivors, although the quality and limitations associated with these policies have not been well studied.

Transition to Survivor Care

Long-term follow-up programs

Transition of care from the pediatric to adult health care setting is necessary for most childhood cancer survivors in the United States.

When available, multidisciplinary long-term follow-up programs in the pediatric cancer center work collaboratively with community physicians to provide care for childhood cancer survivors. This type of shared care has been proposed as the optimal model to facilitate coordination between the cancer center oncology team and community physician groups providing survivor care.

An essential service of long-term follow-up programs is the organization of an individualized survivorship care plan that includes the following:

  • Details about therapeutic interventions undertaken for childhood cancer and their potential health risks (e.g., chemotherapy type and cumulative dose, radiation treatment fields and dose, surgical procedures, blood product transfusions, and hematopoietic cell transplantation).
  • Personalized health screening recommendations.
  • Information about lifestyle factors that modify risks.

For survivors who have not been provided with this information, the COG offers a template that can be used by survivors to organize a personal treatment summary (refer to the COG Survivorship Guidelines, Appendix 1).

COG Long-Term Follow-Up Guidelines for Survivors of Childhood, Adolescent, and Young Adult Cancers

To facilitate survivor and provider access to succinct information to guide risk-based care, COG investigators have organized a compendium of exposure- and risk-based health surveillance recommendations, with the goal of standardizing the care of childhood cancer survivors.

The compendium of resources includes the following:

  • Long-Term Follow-Up Guidelines. COG are appropriate for asymptomatic survivors presenting for routine exposure-based medical evaluation 2 or more years after completion of therapy.
  • Health Links. Patient education materials called provide detailed information on guideline-specific topics to enhance health maintenance and promotion among this population of cancer survivors.
  • Comprehensive reviews. Multidisciplinary system-based (e.g., cardiovascular, neurocognitive, and reproductive) task forces who are responsible for monitoring the literature, evaluating guideline content, and providing recommendations for guideline revisions as new information becomes available have published several comprehensive reviews that address specific late effects of childhood cancer.

Information concerning late effects is summarized in tables throughout this summary.

Several groups have undertaken research to evaluate the yield from risk-based screening as recommended by the COG and other pediatric oncology cooperative groups. Pertinent considerations in interpreting the results of these studies include:

  • Variability in the cohort’s age at treatment.
  • Age at screening.
  • Time from cancer treatment.
  • Participation bias.

Collectively, these studies demonstrate that screening identifies a substantial proportion of individuals with previously unrecognized, treatment-related health complications of varying degrees of severity. Study results have also identified low-yield evaluations that have encouraged revisions of screening recommendations. Ongoing research is evaluating cost effectiveness of screening in the context of consideration of benefits, risks, and harms.

Subsequent Neoplasms

Subsequent neoplasms (SNs), which may be benign or malignant, are defined as histologically distinct neoplasms developing at least 2 months after completion of treatment for the primary malignancy. Childhood cancer survivors have an increased risk of developing SNs that varies according to the following:

  • Host factors (e.g., genetics, immune function, hormone status).
  • Primary cancer therapy.
  • Environmental exposures.
  • Lifestyle factors.

SNs are the leading cause of nonrelapse late mortality (standardized mortality ratio, 15.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 13.9–16.6). The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) reported the following 30-year cumulative incidence rates:

  • All SNs: 20.5% (95% CI, 19.1%–21.8%).
  • Nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC): 9.1% (95% CI, 8.1%–10.1%).
  • SNs with malignant histologies (excluding NMSC): 7.9% (95% CI, 7.2%–8.5%).
  • Meningioma: 3.1% (95% CI, 2.5%–3.8%).

This represents a sixfold increased risk of SNs among cancer survivors, compared with the general population.

The excess risk of SNs persists even after the age of 40 years.

Evidence (excess risk of SN after age 40 years):

The development of an SN is likely multifactorial in etiology and results from a combination of influences including gene-environment and gene-gene interactions. Outcome after the diagnosis of an SN is variable, as treatment for some histological subtypes may be compromised if childhood cancer therapy included cumulative doses of agents and modalities at the threshold of tissue tolerance.

The incidence and type of SNs depend on the following:

  • Primary cancer diagnosis.
  • Type of therapy received.
  • Presence of genetic conditions.

Unique associations with specific therapeutic exposures have resulted in the classification of SNs into the following two distinct groups:

  • Chemotherapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia (t-MDS/AML).
  • Radiation-related solid SNs.

Therapy-Related Myelodysplastic Syndrome and Leukemia

Therapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia (t-MDS/AML) has been reported after treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and sarcomas, with the cumulative incidence approaching 2% at 15 years after therapy.

Characteristics of t-MDS/AML include the following:

  • A short latency (<10 years from primary cancer diagnosis). The risk of t-MDS/AML plateaus after 10 to 15 years. Although the risk of subsequent leukemia remains significantly elevated beyond 15 years from primary diagnosis (standardized incidence ratio [SIR], 3.5; 95% CI, 1.9–6.0), these events are relatively rare, with an absolute excess risk of 0.02 cases per 1,000 person-years.
  • An association with alkylating agents and/or topoisomerase II inhibitors.

t-MDS/AML is a clonal disorder characterized by distinct chromosomal changes. The following two types of t-MDS/AML are recognized by the World Health Organization classification:

  • Alkylating agent-related type: Alkylating agents associated with t-MDS/AML include cyclophosphamide, ifosfamide, mechlorethamine, melphalan, busulfan, nitrosoureas, chlorambucil, and dacarbazine.

    The risk of alkylating agent–related t-MDS/AML is dose dependent, with a latency of 3 to 5 years after exposure; it is associated with abnormalities involving chromosomes 5 (-5/del(5q)) and 7 (-7/del(7q)).

  • Topoisomerase II inhibitor–related type: Topoisomerase II inhibitor agents include etoposide, teniposide, and anthracycline-related drugs.

    Most of the translocations observed in patients exposed to topoisomerase II inhibitors disrupt a breakpoint cluster region between exons 5 and 11 of the band 11q23 and fuse with a partner gene. Topoisomerase II inhibitor–related t-AML presents as overt leukemia after a latency of 6 months to 3 years and is associated with balanced translocations involving chromosome bands 11q23 or 21q22.

Therapy-Related Solid Neoplasms

Therapy-related solid SNs represent 80% of all SNs and demonstrate a strong relationship with radiation exposure and are characterized by a latency that exceeds 10 years. The risk of solid SNs continues to increase with longer follow-up. The risk of solid SNs is highest when the following occur:

  • Radiation exposure at a younger age.
  • High total dose of radiation.
  • Longer period of follow-up after radiation exposure.

The histological subtypes of solid SNs encompass a neoplastic spectrum ranging from benign and low-grade malignant lesions (e.g., NMSC, meningiomas) to high-grade malignancies (e.g., breast cancers, glioblastomas).

Solid SNs in childhood cancer survivors most commonly involve the following:

  • Breast.
  • Thyroid.
  • CNS.
  • Bone and soft tissue.

With more prolonged follow-up of adult survivors of childhood cancer cohorts, epithelial neoplasms have been observed in the following:

  • Lung.
  • Gastrointestinal tract.
  • Genitourinary system.

Benign and low-grade SNs, including NMSCs and meningiomas, have also been observed with increasing prevalence in survivors who were treated with radiation therapy for childhood cancer.

In addition to radiation exposure, exposure to certain anticancer agents may result in solid SNs. In recipients of a hematopoietic cell transplant conditioned with high-dose busulfan and cyclophosphamide (Bu-Cy), the cumulative incidence of new solid cancers appears to be similar regardless of exposure to radiation. In a registry-based, retrospective, cohort study, Bu-Cy conditioning without TBI was associated with higher risks of solid SNs than in the general population. Chronic graft-versus-host disease increased the risk of SNs, especially those involving the oral cavity.

Some well-established solid SNs are described in the following sections.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common therapy-related solid SN after HL, largely due to the high dose of chest radiation used to treat HL (SIR of subsequent breast cancer, 25–55). The following has been observed in female survivors of childhood HL:

  • Excess risk of breast cancer has been reported in female HL survivors treated with high-dose, extended-volume radiation at age 30 years or younger. Emerging data indicate that females treated with low-dose, involved-field radiation also exhibit excess breast cancer risk.
  • Patients with HL who received supradiaphragmatic radiation therapy (excluding the axillae) had a significantly lower risk of subsequent breast cancers than did patients who received mantle-field radiation therapy.
  • For female HL patients treated with radiation therapy to the chest before age 16 years, the cumulative incidence of breast cancer approaches 20% by age 45 years.
  • The latency period after chest irradiation ranges from 8 to 10 years, and the risk of subsequent breast cancer increases in a linear fashion with radiation dose ( for trend < .001).

Radiation-induced breast cancer has been reported in one population-based study to have more adverse clinicopathological features, as evidenced by a twofold increased risk of estrogen receptor–negative, progesterone receptor–negative breast cancer observed among 15-year HL survivors, compared with women who had sporadic breast cancer. In a Stanford investigation evaluating the histological subtypes of breast cancer among 65 patients treated with radiation therapy for HL (median age, 23 years at HL diagnosis), breast cancers arising in previously irradiated breast tissue were more likely to be triple negative than were age-matched sporadic invasive cancers, and less likely to be hormone receptor–positive breast cancer, particularly hormone receptor–positive/human epidermal growth factor receptor 2–positive breast cancer. These findings are in contrast to other smaller hospital-based, case-control studies of breast cancer among HL survivors that have not identified a significant variation in hormone receptor status when compared with primary breast cancer controls. Previous studies have also not demonstrated significant difference in overall risk of high-grade versus low-grade tumors.

Treatment of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma with higher cumulative doses of alkylating agents and ovarian radiation greater than or equal to 5 Gy (exposures predisposing to premature menopause) have been correlated with reductions in breast cancer risk, underscoring the potential contribution of hormonal stimulation on breast carcinogenesis.

Most data describing the risk of radiation-associated breast cancer are based on patients treated for HL, with doses ranging from 15 Gy to 50 Gy. However, the risk of breast cancer was also increased in the following studies that used lower radiation doses to treat cancer metastatic to the chest/lung (e.g., Wilms tumor, sarcoma) and exposed the breast tissue:

Although currently available evidence is insufficient to demonstrate a survival benefit from the initiation of breast cancer surveillance in women treated with radiation therapy to the chest for childhood cancer, interventions to promote detection of small and early-stage tumors may improve prognosis, particularly for those who may have more limited treatment options because of previous exposure to radiation or anthracyclines.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is observed after the following:

  • Neck radiation therapy for HL, ALL, and brain tumors.
  • Iodine I 131-metaiodobenzylguanidine (131I-MIBG) treatment for neuroblastoma.
  • TBI for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

The risk of thyroid cancer has been reported to be 18-fold that of the general population. Significant modifiers of the radiation-related risk of thyroid cancer include the following:

  • Female sex.
  • Younger age at exposure.
  • Longer time since exposure.
  • Radiation dose. A linear dose-response relationship between radiation exposure and thyroid cancer is observed up to 29 Gy, with a decline in the odds ratio (OR) at higher doses, especially in children younger than 10 years at treatment, demonstrating evidence for a cell kill effect.

(Refer to the Thyroid nodules section of this summary for information on detecting thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.)

CNS tumors

Brain tumors develop after cranial irradiation for histologically distinct brain tumors or for management of disease among ALL or non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients. SIRs reported for subsequent CNS neoplasms after treatment for childhood cancer range from 8.1 to 52.3 across studies.

The risk of subsequent brain tumors demonstrates a linear relationship with radiation dose.

  • The risk of meningioma after radiation not only increases with radiation dose but also with increased dose of intrathecal methotrexate.
  • Cavernomas have also been reported with considerable frequency after CNS irradiation but have been speculated to result from angiogenic processes as opposed to true tumorigenesis.

Despite the well-established increased risk of subsequent CNS neoplasms among childhood cancer survivors treated with cranial irradiation, the current literature is insufficient to evaluate the potential harms and benefits of routine screening for these lesions.

Bone and soft tissue tumors

In a population-based study of 69,460 5-year survivors of cancer diagnosed before age 20 years, the risk of subsequent primary bone cancer was 22-fold greater than that of the general population, with an estimated 45-year cumulative incidence of 0.6%, compared with an expected rate of 0.03% in the general population. The observed excess numbers of subsequent primary bone cancer declined with both age and years from diagnosis. Survivors of hereditary retinoblastoma, Ewing sarcoma, and other malignant bone tumors are at a particularly increased risk of subsequent bone and soft tissue tumors.

Radiation therapy is associated with a linear dose-response relationship. After adjustment for radiation therapy, treatment with alkylating agents has also been linked to bone cancer, with the risk increasing with cumulative drug exposure. These data from earlier studies concur with the following data observed by the CCSS and other investigators:

Soft tissue sarcomas can be of various histologic subtypes, including nonrhabdomyosarcoma soft tissue sarcomas, rhabdomyosarcoma, malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors, Ewing/primitive neuroectodermal tumors, and other rare types. The CCSS reported the following on 105 cases and 422 matched controls in a nested case-control study of 14,372 childhood cancer survivors:

  • Soft tissue sarcomas occurred at a median of 11.8 years (range, 5.3–31.3 years) from original diagnoses.
  • Any exposure to radiation was associated with increased risk of soft tissue sarcoma (OR, 4.1; 95% CI, 1.8–9.5), which demonstrated a linear dose-response relationship.
  • Anthracycline exposure was associated with soft tissue sarcoma risk (OR, 3.5; 95% CI, 1.6–7.7), independent of radiation dose.

Skin cancer

Nonmelanoma skin cancers (NMSCs) represent one of the most common SNs among childhood cancer survivors and exhibit a strong association with radiation therapy. The CCSS has observed the following:

  • Compared with participants who did not receive radiation therapy, CCSS participants treated with radiation therapy had a 6.3-fold increase in risk of NMSC (95% CI, 3.5–11.3).
  • Ninety percent of tumors occurred within the radiation field.
  • A CCSS case-control study of the same cohort reported on subsequent basal cell carcinoma. Children who received 35 Gy or more to the skin site had an almost 40-fold excess risk of developing basal cell cancer (OR, 39.8; 95% CI, 8.6–185), compared with those who did not receive radiation therapy; results were consistent with a linear dose-response relationship, with an excess OR per Gy of 1.09 (95% CI, 0.49–2.64).

    These data underscore the importance of counseling survivors about sun protection behaviors to reduce ultraviolet radiation exposure that may exacerbate this risk.

The occurrence of an NMSC as the first SN has been reported to identify a population at high risk of a future invasive malignant SN. CCSS investigators observed a cumulative incidence of a malignant neoplasm of 20.3% (95% CI, 13.0%–27.6%) at 15 years among radiation-exposed survivors who developed NMSC as a first SN compared with 10.7% (95% CI, 7.2%–14.2%) whose first SN was an invasive malignancy.

Malignant melanoma has also been reported as an SN in childhood cancer survivor cohorts, although at a much lower incidence than NMSCs. A systematic review including data from 19 original studies (total N = 151,575 survivors; median follow-up of 13 years) observed an incidence of 10.8 cases of malignant melanoma per 100,000 childhood cancer survivors per year.

Risk factors for malignant melanoma identified among these studies include the following:

  • Radiation therapy.
  • Combination of alkylating agents and antimitotic drugs.

Melanomas most frequently developed in survivors of HL, hereditary retinoblastoma, soft tissue sarcoma, and gonadal tumors, but the relatively small number of survivors represented in the relevant studies preclude assessment of melanoma risk among other types of childhood cancer.

CCSS investigators observed an approximate 2.5-fold increased risk (SIR, 2.42; 95% CI, 1.77–3.23) of melanoma among members of their cohort (median time to development, 21.0 years). The cumulative incidence of first subsequent melanoma at 35 years from initial cancer diagnosis was 0.55% (95% CI, 0.37–0.73), and absolute excess risk was 0.10 per 1,000 person-years (95% CI, 0.05–0.15). Family history of cancer, demographic, or treatment-related factors did not predict risk of melanoma.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer: Among childhood cancer survivor cohorts, lung cancer represents a relatively uncommon SN; the 30-year cumulative incidence of lung cancer among CCSS participants was 0.1% (95% CI, 0.0%–0.2%). The following has been observed in adult survivors of childhood HL:

  • Lung cancer has been reported after chest irradiation for HL. The risk increases in association with longer elapsed time from diagnosis.
  • Smoking has been linked with the occurrence of lung cancer that develops after radiation therapy for HL. The increase in risk of lung cancer with increasing radiation dose is greater among patients who smoke after exposure to radiation than among those who refrain from smoking ( = .04).

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer

There is emerging evidence that childhood cancer survivors develop GI malignancies more frequently and at a younger age than the general population.

The following has been observed in adult survivors of childhood cancer:

Collectively, these studies support the need for initiation of colorectal carcinoma surveillance at a young age among survivors receiving high-risk exposures.

Renal carcinoma

Consistent with reports among survivors of adult-onset cancer, an increased risk of renal carcinoma has been observed in survivors of childhood cancer.

CCSS investigators reported a significant excess of subsequent renal carcinoma among 14,358 5-year survivors in the cohort (SIR, 8.0; 95% CI, 5.2–11.7) compared with the general population. The reported overall absolute excess risk of 8.4 per 10 person-years indicates that these cases are relatively rare. Highest risk was observed among the following:

  • Neuroblastoma survivors (SIR, 85.8; 95% CI, 38.4–175.2). Radiation has been hypothesized to predispose children with high-risk neuroblastoma to renal carcinoma.
  • Those treated with renal-directed radiation therapy of 5 Gy or greater (RR, 3.8; 95% CI, 1.6–9.3).
  • Those treated with platinum-based chemotherapy (RR, 3.5; 95% CI, 1.0–11.2). Cases of secondary renal carcinoma associated with Xp11.2 translocations and gene fusions have also been reported and suggest that cytotoxic chemotherapy may contribute to renal carcinogenesis.

Underlying genetic predisposition may also play a role because rare cases of renal carcinoma have been observed in children with tuberous sclerosis.

Subsequent Neoplasms and Genetic Susceptibility

Literature clearly supports the role of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the development of SNs. However, interindividual variability exists, suggesting that genetic variation has a role in susceptibility to genotoxic exposures, or that genetic susceptibility syndrome confers an increased risk of cancer, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Previous studies have demonstrated that childhood cancer survivors with a family history of Li-Fraumeni syndrome in particular, or a family history of cancer, carry an increased risk of developing an SN.

The risk of SNs could potentially be modified by mutations in high-penetrance genes that lead to these serious genetic diseases (e.g., Li-Fraumeni syndrome). However, the attributable risk is expected to be very small because of the extremely low prevalence of mutations in high-penetrance genes.

Table 1 summarizes the spectrum of neoplasms, affected genes, and Mendelian mode of inheritance of selected syndromes of inherited cancer predisposition.

Drug-metabolizing enzymes and DNA repair polymorphisms

The interindividual variability in risk of SNs is more likely related to common polymorphisms in low-penetrance genes that regulate the availability of active drug metabolites or are responsible for DNA repair. Gene-environment interactions may magnify subtle functional differences resulting from genetic variations.

Drug-metabolizing enzymes

Metabolism of genotoxic agents occurs in two phases.

The balance between the two sets of enzymes is critical to the cellular response to xenobiotics; for example, high activity of a phase I enzyme and low activity of a phase II enzyme can result in DNA damage.

DNA repair polymorphisms

DNA repair mechanisms protect somatic cells from mutations in tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes that can lead to cancer initiation and progression. An individual’s DNA repair capacity appears to be genetically determined. A number of DNA repair genes contain polymorphic variants, resulting in large interindividual variations in DNA repair capacity. Evaluation of the contribution of polymorphisms influencing DNA repair to the risk of SN represents an active area of research.

Screening and Follow-up for Subsequent Neoplasms

Vigilant screening is important for childhood cancer survivors at risk. Because of the relatively small size of the pediatric cancer survivor population and the prevalence and time to onset of therapy-related complications, undertaking clinical studies to assess the impact of screening recommendations on the morbidity and mortality associated with the late effect is not feasible.

Well-conducted studies on large populations of childhood cancer survivors have provided compelling evidence linking specific therapeutic exposures and late effects. This evidence has been used by several national and international cooperative groups (Scottish Collegiate Guidelines Network, Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group, Children's Oncology Group [COG], Dutch Children's Oncology Group) to develop consensus-based clinical practice guidelines to increase awareness and standardize the immediate care needs of medically vulnerable childhood cancer survivors.

All pediatric cancer survivor health screening guidelines employ a hybrid approach that is both evidence-based (utilizing established associations between therapeutic exposures and late effects to identify high-risk categories) and grounded in the collective clinical experience of experts (matching the magnitude of the risk with the intensity of the screening recommendations). The screening recommendations in these guidelines represent a statement of consensus from a panel of experts in the late effects of pediatric cancer treatment.

The COG Guidelines for malignant SNs indicate that certain high-risk populations of childhood cancer survivors merit heightened surveillance because of predisposing host, behavioral, or therapeutic factors.

  • Screening for leukemia: t-MDS/AML usually manifests within 10 years after exposure. Recommendations include monitoring with history and physical examination for signs and symptoms of pancytopenia for 10 years after exposure to alkylating agents or topoisomerase II inhibitors.
  • Screening after radiation exposure: Most other SNs are associated with radiation exposure and usually manifest more than 10 years after exposure. Screening recommendations include careful annual physical examination of the skin and underlying tissues in the radiation field.

    Specific comments about screening for more common radiation-associated SNs are as follows:

    • Screening for early-onset skin cancer: Annual dermatological exam focusing on skin lesions and pigmented nevi in the radiation field is recommended. Survivors are counseled about the following:
      • Increased risk of skin cancer.
      • Potential exacerbation of risk through tanning.
      • Benefits of adhering to behaviors to protect the skin from excessive ultraviolet radiation exposure.
    • Screening for early-onset breast cancer: Because outcome after breast cancer is directly linked to stage at diagnosis, close surveillance resulting in early diagnosis may confer survival advantage. Several pediatric cancer groups have endorsed the recommendation for early (before population breast cancer screening) initiation of breast cancer surveillance using mammography, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or both imaging modalities in young women who were treated with chest irradiation.

      Mammography, the most widely accepted screening tool for breast cancer in the general population, may not be the ideal screening tool by itself for radiation-related breast cancers occurring in relatively young women with dense breasts. On the basis of research among young women with inherited susceptibility to breast cancer, dual-imaging modalities may enhance early detection related to the higher sensitivity of MRI in detecting lesions in premenopausal dense breasts and the superiority of mammography in identifying ductal carcinoma ; therefore, the American Cancer Society recommends including adjunct screening with MRI. The high sensitivity and specificity in detecting early-stage lesions with dual-imaging surveillance is offset by a substantial rate of additional investigations attributable to false-positive results.

      Many clinicians are concerned about potential harms related to radiation exposure associated with annual mammography in these young women. In this regard, it is important to consider that the estimated mean breast dose with contemporary standard two-view screening mammograms is about 3.85 mGy to 4.5 mGy. Thus, 15 additional surveillance mammograms from age 25 to 39 years would increase the total radiation exposure in a woman treated with 20 Gy of chest radiation to 20.05775 Gy. The benefits of detection of early breast cancer lesions in high-risk women must be balanced by the risk predisposed by a 0.3% additional radiation exposure.

      To keep young women engaged in breast health surveillance, the COG Guideline recommends the following for females who received a radiation dose of 20 Gy or higher to the mantle, mediastinal, whole lung, and axillary fields:

      • Monthly breast self-examination beginning at puberty.
      • Annual clinical breast examinations beginning at puberty until age 25 years.
      • A clinical breast examination every 6 months, with annual mammograms and MRIs beginning 8 years after radiation therapy or at age 25 years (whichever occurs later).

      The risk of breast cancer in patients who received less than 20 Gy of radiation with potential impact to the breast is of a lower magnitude compared with those who received more than 20 Gy. Monitoring of patients treated with less than 20 Gy of radiation with potential impact to the breast is determined on an individual basis after a discussion with the provider regarding the benefits and risk/harms of screening. If a decision is made to screen, the recommendations for women exposed to more than 20 Gy are used.

    • Screening for early-onset colorectal cancer: Screening of those at risk of early-onset colorectal cancer (i.e., radiation doses of 30 Gy or higher to the abdomen, pelvis, or spine) includes colonoscopy every 5 years beginning at age 35 years or 10 years after radiation therapy (whichever occurs later).

Late Effects of the Cardiovascular System

Cardiovascular disease, after recurrence of the original cancer and development of second primary cancers, has been reported to be the leading cause of premature mortality among long-term childhood cancer survivors.

Evidence (excess risk of premature cardiovascular mortality):

By age 45 years, the overall cumulative incidence of severe, life-threatening, or fatal cardiac events has been reported to be approximately 5% for coronary artery disease and heart failure separately and 1% to 2% for valve disorders and arrhythmias. Compared with siblings, 5-year survivors had relative risks (RRs) approaching, if not exceeding, tenfold for heart failure, coronary artery disease, and cerebrovascular disease. The burden of subclinical disease is likely much greater.

The specific late effects covered in this section include the following:

  • Cardiomyopathy/heart failure.
  • Ischemic heart disease.
  • Pericardial heart disease.
  • Valve disease.
  • Conduction disorders.
  • Cerebrovascular disease.

The section will also briefly discuss the influence of related conditions such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes in relation to these late effects, but not directly review in detail those conditions as a consequence of childhood cancer treatment. A comprehensive review on long-term cardiovascular toxicity in childhood and young adult survivors of cancer, issued by the American Heart Association, has been published.

Overall, there has been a wealth of studies focused on the topic of cardiac events among childhood cancer survivors. In addition to many smaller studies not covered in detail here, the literature includes very large cohort studies that are either hospital based, clinical trial based, or population based, many with up to several decades of follow-up. However, even with decades of follow-up, the average age of these populations may still be relatively young (young or middle adulthood). And while the risk of serious cardiovascular outcomes may be very high relative to the age-matched general population, the absolute risk often remains low, limiting the power of many studies. Among the very large studies featuring thousands of survivors, the main limitation has been inadequate ability to clinically ascertain late cardiovascular complications, with a greater reliance on either administrative records (e.g., death registries) and/or self-report or proxy-report.

While each study design has some inherent biases, the overall literature, based on a combination of self-reported outcomes, clinical ascertainment, and administrative data sources, is robust in concluding that certain cancer-related exposures predispose survivors toward a significantly greater risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Although late effects research often lags behind changes in contemporary therapy, many therapies linked to cardiovascular late effects remain in common use today. Ongoing research will be important to ensure that newer agents being introduced today do not result in unexpected cardiovascular effects.

Evidence (selected cohort studies describing cardiovascular outcomes):

Using data from four large, well-annotated childhood cancer survivor cohorts (CCSS, National Wilms Tumor Study Group, the Netherlands, and SJCRH), a heart failure risk calculator based on readily available demographic and treatment characteristics has been created and validated, which may provide more individualized clinical heart failure risk estimation for 5-year survivors of childhood cancer who have recently completed therapy and up through age 40 years. One limitation of this estimator is that because of the young age of participants at the time of baseline prediction (5-year survival), information on conventional cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, or diabetes could not be incorporated.

Treatment Risk Factors

Chemotherapy (in particular, anthracyclines and anthraquinones) along with radiation therapy both independently and in combination, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in survivors of childhood cancer and are considered to be the most important risk factors contributing to premature cardiovascular disease in this population (refer to Figure 3).

Five charts showing marginal and cause-specific cumulative incidence of cardiac events among childhood cancer survivors according to different treatment groups.Figure 3. (A, B) Marginal (Kaplan-Meier) and (C–E) cause-specific (competing risk) cumulative incidence of cardiac events (CEs) in childhood cancer survivors stratified according to different treatment groups. (A) Marginal cumulative incidence for all CEs, stratified according to potential cardiotoxic (CTX) therapy or no CTX therapy, log-rank P < .001. (B) Marginal cumulative incidence for all CEs, stratified according to different CTX therapies, log-rank P < .001. (C) Cause-specific cumulative incidence for congestive heart failure, stratified according to different treatment groups, log-rank P < .001. (D) Cause-specific cumulative incidence for cardiac ischemia, stratified according to cardiac irradiation (RTX) or no RTX, log-rank P = .01. (E) Cause-specific cumulative incidence for valvular disease, stratified according to RTX or no RTX, log-rank P < .001. The shaded colorized background areas refer to the 95% CIs. Ant, anthracycline. Helena J. van der Pal, Elvira C. van Dalen, Evelien van Delden, Irma W. van Dijk, Wouter E. Kok, Ronald B. Geskus, Elske Sieswerda, Foppe Oldenburger, Caro C. Koning, Flora E. van Leeuwen, Huib N. Caron, Leontien C. Kremer, High Risk of Symptomatic Cardiac Events in Childhood Cancer Survivors, Journal of Clinical Oncology, volume 30, issue 13, pages 1429-1437. Reprinted with permission. © (2012) American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.

Anthracyclines and related agents

Anthracyclines (e.g., doxorubicin, daunorubicin, idarubicin, and epirubicin) and anthraquinones (e.g., mitoxantrone) are known to directly injure cardiomyocytes through the formation of reactive oxygen species and inducing mitochondrial apoptosis. The downstream results of cell death are changes in heart structure, including wall thinning, which leads to ventricular overload and pathologic remodeling that, over time, leads to dysfunction and eventual clinical heart failure.

Risk factors for anthracycline-related cardiomyopathy include the following:

  • Cumulative dose, particularly greater than 250 mg/m to 300 mg/m.
  • Younger age at time of exposure, particularly children younger than 5 years.
  • Increased time from exposure.

Among these factors, cumulative dose appears to be the most significant (refer to Figure 4). While it is not completely certain whether there is a truly safe lower dose threshold, doses in excess of 250 mg/m to 300 mg/m have been associated with a substantially increased risk of cardiomyopathy, with cumulative incidences exceeding 5% after 20 years of follow-up, and in some subgroups, reaching or exceeding 10% cumulative incidence by age 40 years. Concurrent chest or heart radiation therapy also further increases risk of cardiomyopathy, as does the presence of other cardiometabolic traits such as hypertension. While development of clinical heart failure can occur within a few years after anthracycline exposure, in most survivors, even those who received very high doses, clinical manifestations may not occur for decades.

Chart showing risk of anthracycline-induced clinical heart failure (A-CHF) according to cumulative anthracycline dose.Figure 4. Risk of anthracycline-induced clinical heart failure (A-CHF) according to cumulative anthracycline dose. Reprinted from European Journal of Cancer, Volume 42, Elvira C. van Dalen, Helena J.H. van der Pal, Wouter E.M. Kok, Huib N. Caron, Leontien C.M. Kremer, Clinical heart failure in a cohort of children treated with anthracyclines: A long-term follow-up study, Pages 3191-3198, Copyright (2006), with permission from Elsevier.

Anthracycline dose equivalency

It remains unclear how best to add together doses of different anthracycline agents. A variety of anthracycline equivalence formulas (in relation to doxorubicin) have been used; however, they are largely based on hematologic toxicity equivalence, and may not necessarily be the same for cardiac toxicity. Most pediatric professional societies and groups have generally considered daunorubicin equivalent, or near equivalent, to doxorubicin, although historically lower ratios have been proposed as well. A large analysis of over 15,000 childhood cancer survivors who were monitored to age 40 years found that daunorubicin may be significantly less cardiotoxic than doxorubicin (equivalence ratio, 0.5 [95% CI, 0.2–0.7]).

Other agents such as idarubicin, epirubicin, and mitoxantrone (an anthraquinone) were designed to reduce cardiac toxicity while maintaining similar antitumor effect, although data supporting this are primarily limited to adult cancer patients. Similarly, data on whether liposomal formulations of anthracyclines reduce cardiac toxicity in children also are limited.

Anthracycline cardioprotection

Cardioprotective strategies that have been explored include the following:

  • New, less cardiotoxic agents and liposomal formulations.
  • Prolonged infusion time. Prolonged infusion time has been associated with reduced heart failure in adult patients but not in children.
  • Concurrent administration of cardioprotectants. A variety of agents have been tested as cardioprotectants (amifostine, acetylcysteine, calcium channel blockers, carvedilol, coenzyme Q10, and L-carnitine), but none have been definitively shown to be beneficial and are not considered standard of care.

    There are more data for dexrazoxane as a cardioprotectant, but again, mainly in adult cancer patients, for whom it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for women with metastatic breast cancer who have received 300 mg/m of anthracyclines and who may benefit from further anthracycline-based therapy. Pediatric data show that dexrazoxane may ameliorate some markers of early cardiac toxicity up to 5 years after therapy. Dexrazoxane may be associated with an increased risk of acute toxicities in some regimens, however. While these data suggest that dexrazoxane does protect the heart in the short term, there are not yet long-term data showing the impact of dexrazoxane on cardiac health.

    As a topoisomerase inhibitor, dexrazoxane’s association with secondary cancers, particularly secondary leukemia, remains controversial. One report that described the use of concurrent etoposide and doxorubicin observed an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) among patients treated with dexrazoxane. However, all other pediatric randomized controlled and nonrandomized studies have not observed an increased risk of subsequent malignant neoplasms in conjunction with dexrazoxane, and the risk of secondary AML was not increased among children treated with dexrazoxane who were registered in the Pediatric Health Information Systems database. Another randomized trial reported an increased risk of secondary brain tumors among survivors treated with cranial irradiation, but this risk did not differ among patients who did and did not receive dexrazoxane.

Radiation therapy

While anthracyclines directly damage cardiomyocytes, radiation therapy primarily affects the fine vasculature of affected organs.

Cardiovascular disease

Late effects of radiation therapy to the heart specifically include the following:

  • Delayed pericarditis, which can present abruptly or as a chronic pericardial effusion.
  • Pancarditis, which includes pericardial and myocardial fibrosis, with or without endocardial fibroelastosis.
  • Cardiomyopathy (in the absence of significant pericardial disease), which can occur even without anthracycline exposure.
  • Ischemic heart disease.
  • Functional valve injury, often aortic.
  • Conduction defects.

These cardiac late effects are related to the following:

  • Individual radiation fraction size.
  • Volume of the heart that is exposed to radiation.
  • Total radiation dose. Various studies have demonstrated a substantially increased risk of these outcomes with higher radiation doses, particularly doses to the heart exceeding 35 Gy (refer to Figure 5). At higher radiation doses, rates of heart failure, pericardial disease, and valvular disease have been reported to exceed 10% after 20 to 30 years. Although some studies suggest that doses less than 5 Gy may be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the RR is small (i.e., 2.5) and the 95% CI is large (i.e., 0.2–41.5); moreover, the dosimetric analyses are generally estimations of incidental cardiac exposure. Consequently, additional confirmatory data are needed for an accurate assessment of risk at very low cardiac doses.

    Four charts showing cumulative incidence of cardiac disorders among childhood cancer survivors by average cardiac radiation dose. First chart shows cumulative incidence (%) of congestive heart failure over time since diagnosis (years) for five levels of radiation:  no cardiac radiation, less than 500 cGy  cardiac radiation, 500 to less than 1500 cGy  cardiac radiation, 1500 to less than 3500 cGy  cardiac radiation, and  ≥3500 cGy  cardiac radiation. The second, third, and fourth charts show incidence over time for myocardial infarction, pericardial disease, and valvular disease, with the same radiation dosage levels.Figure 5. Cumulative incidence of cardiac disorders among childhood cancer survivors by average cardiac radiation dose. BMJ 2009; 339:b4606. © 2009 by British Medical Journal Publishing Group.

Similar to anthracyclines, manifestation of these late effects may take years, if not decades, to present. Finally, patients who were exposed to both radiation therapy affecting the cardiovascular system and cardiotoxic chemotherapy agents are at even greater risk of late cardiovascular outcomes.

Cerebrovascular disease

Cerebrovascular disease after radiation therapy exposure is another potential late effect for survivors. While brain tumor survivors have had traditionally the greatest risk, other survivors exposed to cranial irradiation (≥18 Gy) and neck irradiation (≥40 Gy), such as leukemia and lymphoma survivors, have also been reported to be at increased risk. In lymphoma survivors who only received chest and/or neck radiation therapy, cerebrovascular disease is thought to be caused by large-vessel atherosclerosis and cardiac embolism.

As with cardiac outcomes, risk increases with cumulative dose received. One study (N = 325) reported that the stroke hazard increased by 5% (hazard ratio [HR], 1.05; 95% CI, 1.01–1.09; = .02), with each 1 Gy increase in the radiation dose, leading to a cumulative incidence of 2% for the first stroke after 5 years and 4% after 10 years. Survivors who experienced stroke were then at significantly greater risk of experiencing recurrent strokes.

Evidence (selected studies describing prevalence of and risk factors for cerebrovascular [CVA]/vascular disease):

Conventional cardiovascular conditions

Various cancer treatment exposures may also directly or indirectly influence the development of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and dyslipidemia. These conditions remain important among cancer survivors, as they do in the general population, in that they are independent risk factors in the development of cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease.

Childhood cancer survivors should be closely screened for the development of these cardiovascular conditions because they represent potentially modifiable targets for intervention. This includes being aware of related conditions such as obesity and various endocrinopathies (e.g., hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, growth hormone deficiency) that may be more common among subsets of childhood cancer survivors; if these conditions are untreated/uncontrolled, they may be associated with a metabolic profile that increases cardiovascular risk.

Other Risk Factors

Some, but not all, studies suggest that female sex may be associated with a greater risk of anthracycline-related cardiomyopathy. In addition, there is emerging evidence that genetic factors, such as single nucleotide polymorphisms in genes regulating drug metabolism and distribution, could explain the heterogeneity in susceptibility to anthracycline-mediated cardiac injury. However, these genetic findings still require additional validation before being incorporated into any clinical screening algorithm.

Knowledge Deficits

While much knowledge has been gained over the past 20 years in better understanding the long-term burden and risk factors for cardiovascular disease among childhood cancer survivors, many areas of inquiry remain, and include the following:

  • Radiation may have both direct and indirect effects on vascular endothelium, contributing to vascular damage beyond the primary radiation field.
  • The long-term effects of lower radiation doses, particularly in light of newer technology that allows radiation oncologists to reduce the dose to critical organs outside of the tumor field, remain to be determined.
  • The long-term effects of many newer anticancer agents that are based on molecular targets remains unclear, although some of them are known to have shorter-term cardiac toxicity.
  • The efficacy of cardioprotective strategies, including the use of alternative anthracycline formulations that appear promising in adults, requires further study in children.

Screening, Surveillance, and Counseling

Various national groups, including the National Institutes of Health–sponsored COG (refer to Table 2), have published recommendations regarding screening and surveillance for cardiovascular and other late effects among childhood cancer survivors. Professional groups (both pediatric and adult) have developed evidence-based health surveillance recommendations and have identified knowledge deficits to help guide future studies. Adult oncology professional and national groups have also issued recommendations related to cardiac toxicity monitoring.

At this point, there is no clear evidence (at least through age 50 years or 30–40 years posttreatment) that there is a plateau in risk that occurs after a certain time among survivors exposed to cancer treatments associated with cardiovascular late effects. Thus, some form of life-long surveillance is recommended, even if the cost-effectiveness of certain screening strategies remains unclear.

However, a growing amount of literature is beginning to establish the yield from these screening studies, which will help inform future guidelines. In these studies, for example, among adult-aged survivors of childhood cancer, evidence for cardiomyopathy on the basis of echocardiographic changes was found in approximately 6% of at-risk survivors. Overall, in a cohort of more than 1,000 survivors (median age, 32 years), nearly 60% of screened at-risk survivors had some clinically ascertained cardiac abnormality identified.

Given the growing evidence that conventional cardiovascular conditions such as hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes substantially increase the risk of more serious cardiovascular disease among survivors, clinicians should carefully consider baseline and follow-up screening and treatment of these comorbid conditions that impact cardiovascular health (refer to Table 2).

There is also emerging evidence that adoption of healthier lifestyle factors may decrease future cardiovascular morbidity in at-risk survivors. Thus, similar to the general population, survivors are counseled about maintaining a healthy weight, participating in regular physical activity, adhering to a heart-healthy diet, and abstaining from smoking.

In addition to releasing a comprehensive, publicly available (online) set of guidelines, the COG has also put together a series of handouts on cardiovascular and related topics, including lifestyle choices written for a lay audience, available on the same website.

Late Effects of the Central Nervous System


Neurocognitive late effects are most commonly observed after treatment of malignancies that require central nervous system (CNS)–directed therapies. While there is considerable evidence published about this outcome, its quality is often limited by small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, cross-sectional versus longitudinal evaluations, and variable time of assessment from treatment exposures. CNS-directed therapies include the following:

  • Cranial radiation therapy.
  • Systemic therapy with high-dose methotrexate or cytarabine.
  • Intrathecal chemotherapy.

Children with brain tumors or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are most likely to be affected. Risk factors for the development of neurocognitive late effects include the following:

  • Female sex.
  • Younger age at the time of treatment.
  • Tumor location.
  • Higher cranial radiation dose.
  • Treatment with cranial radiation therapy and/or chemotherapeutic agents (systemic or intrathecal).

It should be noted that the cognitive phenotypes observed in childhood survivors of ALL and CNS tumors may differ from traditional developmental disorders. For example, the phenotype of attention problems in ALL and brain tumor survivors appears to differ from developmental attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in that few survivors demonstrate significant hyperactivity/impulsivity, but instead have associated difficulties with processing speed and executive function.

Neurocognitive outcomes in brain tumor survivors

Survival rates have increased over recent decades for children with brain tumors; however, long-term cognitive effects caused by illness and associated treatments are a well-established morbidity in this group of survivors. In childhood and adolescent brain tumor survivors, risk factors for adverse neurocognitive effects include the following:

  • Cranial radiation therapy. Cranial radiation therapy has been associated with the highest risk of long-term cognitive morbidity, particularly in younger children. There is an established dose-response relationship, with patients who receive higher-dose cranial radiation therapy consistently performing more poorly on intellectual measures. Radiation dose to specific regions of the brain, including the temporal lobes and hippocampi, have been shown to significantly impact longitudinal intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and academic achievement scores among children treated with craniospinal irradiation for medulloblastoma.
  • Tumor site.
  • Shunted hydrocephalus.
  • Postsurgical cerebellar mutism.
  • Auditory difficulties, including sensorineural hearing loss.
  • History of stroke.
  • Seizures.

The negative impact of radiation treatment has been characterized by changes in IQ scores, which have been noted to drop about 2 to 5 years after diagnosis; the decline continues 5 to 10 years afterward, although less is known about potential stabilization or further decline of IQ scores several decades after diagnosis. The decline in IQ scores over time typically reflects the child’s failure to acquire new abilities or information at a rate similar to that of his or her peers, rather than a progressive loss of skills and knowledge. Affected children also may experience deficits in other cognitive areas, including academic difficulties (reading and math) and problems with attention, processing speed, memory, and visual or perceptual motor skills.

These changes in cognitive functioning may be partially explained by radiation-induced reduction of normal-appearing white matter volume or integrity of white matter pathways, as evaluated through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In fact, reduced white matter integrity has been directly linked to slowed cognitive processing speed in survivors of brain tumors, while greater white matter volume has been associated with better working memory, particularly in females. It should be noted that data emerging from contemporary protocols show that using lower doses of cranial radiation and more targeted treatment volumes appears to reduce the severity of neurocognitive effects of therapy.

Data are emerging regarding cognitive outcomes after proton radiation to the CNS. To date, these studies largely describe IQ changes during early (less than 5 years from radiation) follow-up and are limited by retrospective analysis of cognitive outcomes among relatively small clinically heterogeneous pediatric brain tumor cohorts and use of historically treated photon patients or population standards as comparison groups. Study results demonstrating lack of difference in slopes of IQ change among photon- and proton-treated patients and significant declines in cognitive processing speed among patients treated with proton radiation underscore the importance of longitudinal follow-up to determine whether proton radiation provides a clinically meaningful benefit in sparing cognitive function compared with photon radiation.

In addition, studies are beginning to examine cognitive outcomes in histologically distinct subtypes of brain tumors. For example, data from a sample of 121 medulloblastoma patients demonstrated variation in cognitive outcomes by four distinct molecular subgroups and differences in patterns of change over time. This study highlights the need for future research to consider neurocognitive outcomes across biologically distinct subtypes of childhood brain tumors.

Longitudinal cohort studies have provided insight into the trajectory and predictors of cognitive decline among survivors of CNS tumors.

Evidence (predictors of cognitive decline among survivors of CNS tumors):

Although adverse neurocognitive outcomes observed 5 to 10 years after treatment are presumed to be pervasive, and potentially worsen over time, few empirical data are available regarding the neurocognitive functioning in very long-term survivors of CNS tumors.

  • Among adult survivors participating in the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), CNS tumor survivors (n = 802) self-reported significantly more problems with attention/processing speed, memory, emotional control, and organization than did survivors of non-CNS malignancies (n = 5,937) and sibling controls (n = 382). Moreover, a large proportion of CNS tumor survivors treated with cranial irradiation reported impairment on measures of attention/processing speed (42.9%–73.3%) and memory (14.3%–37.4%), with differences observed by diagnosis and cranial radiation dose.
  • A study of 224 adult survivors of pediatric brain tumors participating in the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study revealed that 20% to 30% of the survivors demonstrated severe neurocognitive impairment (defined as at least two standard deviations below normative mean) on tests of intelligence, memory, and executive function (e.g., planning, organization, and flexibility). Among adults in the general population, the expected impairment rate at this threshold is 2%. Survivors who received whole-brain cranial irradiation were 1.5 to 3 times more likely to have severe neurocognitive impairment than were survivors who did not receive any cranial irradiation. Hydrocephalus with shunt placement and seizures were also associated with increased risk of impairment. Importantly, this study relied on direct assessment of neurocognitive skills while the previous CCSS report relied on self-report of problems.

The neurocognitive consequences of CNS disease and treatment may have a considerable impact on functional outcomes for brain tumor survivors.

  • In childhood and adolescence, neurocognitive deficits have been associated with poor social adjustment, including problems with peer relations, social withdrawal, and reduced social skills.
  • CNS tumor survivors are more likely to need special education services than are survivors of other malignancies.
  • Adult CNS tumor survivors are less likely to live independently, marry, and graduate from college than are survivors of other malignancies and siblings.

Neurocognitive outcomes in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) survivors

The increase in cure rates for children with ALL over the past decades has resulted in greater attention to the neurocognitive morbidity and quality of life of survivors. The goal of current ALL treatment is to minimize adverse late effects while maintaining high survival rates. To minimize the risk of late sequelae, patients are stratified for treatment according to their risk of relapse. Cranial irradiation is reserved for the fewer than 20% of children who are considered at high risk for CNS relapse.

Although low-risk, standard-risk, and most high-risk patients are treated with chemotherapy-only protocols, early reports of neurocognitive late effects for ALL patients were based on heterogeneously treated groups of survivors who received combinations (simultaneously or sequentially) of intrathecal chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and high-dose chemotherapy, making it difficult to differentiate the impact of the individual treatment components. However, outcome data are increasingly available regarding the risk of neurocognitive late effects in survivors of childhood ALL treated with chemotherapy only.

ALL and cranial radiation

In survivors of ALL, cranial radiation therapy may result in clinical and radiographic neurologic late sequelae, including the following:

  • Clinical leukoencephalopathy. Clinical leukoencephalopathy characterized by spasticity, ataxia, dysarthria, dysphagia, hemiparesis, and seizures is uncommon after contemporary ALL therapy. In contrast, neuroimaging frequently demonstrates white matter abnormalities among survivors treated with cranial irradiation and/or high-dose methotrexate. Radiographic leukoencephalopathy has been reported in up to 80% of children on some treatment regimens. Higher doses and more courses of intravenous methotrexate have been reported to increase risk of leukoencephalopathy. In many patients, white matter anomalies are transient and decrease in prevalence, extent, and intensity with longer elapsed time from completion of therapy. Leukoencephalopathy results in smaller white matter volumes that have been correlated with cognitive deficits. Although these abnormalities are mild among the irradiated patients (overall IQ fall of approximately 10 points), those who have received higher doses at a young age may have significant learning difficulties.
  • Neuropsychological deficits. Deficits in neuropsychological functions such as visual-motor integration, processing speed, attention, and short-term memory are reported in children treated with 18 Gy to 24 Gy. Females and children treated at a younger age are more vulnerable to the adverse impact of cranial radiation on the developing brain. The decline in intellectual functioning appears to be progressive, showing more impairment of cognitive function with increasing time since radiation therapy. Limited studies suggest that long-term survivors of childhood ALL treated with cranial irradiation are at risk of progressive decline consistent with early-onset mild cognitive impairment; this risk is most prominent among those treated with cranial radiation doses of 24 Gy.

ALL and chemotherapy-only CNS therapy

Because of its penetrance into the CNS, systemic methotrexate has been used in a variety of low-dose and high-dose regimens for leukemia CNS prophylaxis. Systemic methotrexate in high doses with or without radiation therapy can lead to an infrequent but well-described leukoencephalopathy, which has been linked to neurocognitive impairment. When neurocognitive outcomes after radiation therapy and chemotherapy-only regimens are directly compared, the evidence suggests a better outcome for those treated with chemotherapy alone, although some studies show no significant difference.

Compared with cranial irradiation, chemotherapy-only CNS-directed treatment produces neurocognitive deficits involving processes of attention, speed of information processing, memory, verbal comprehension, visual-spatial skills, visual-motor functioning, and executive functioning; global intellectual function is typically preserved. Few longitudinal studies evaluating long-term neurocognitive outcome report adequate data for a decline in global IQ after treatment with chemotherapy alone. The academic achievement of ALL survivors in the long term seems to be generally average for reading and spelling, with deficits mainly affecting arithmetic performance. Risk factors for poor neurocognitive outcome after chemotherapy-only CNS-directed treatment are younger age and female sex.

Reduced cognitive status has been observed in association with reduced integrity in neuroanatomical regions essential in memory formation (e.g., reduced hippocampal volume with increased activation and thinner parietal cortices). However, the long-term impact of these prevalent neurocognitive and neuroimaging abnormalities on functional status in aging adults treated for childhood ALL, particularly those treated with contemporary approaches using chemotherapy alone, remains an active area of research.

Evidence (neurocognitive functioning in large pediatric cancer survivor cohorts):

ALL and steroid therapy

The type of steroid used for ALL systemic treatment may affect cognitive functioning. In a study that involved long-term neurocognitive testing (mean follow-up, 9.8 years) of 92 children with a history of standard-risk ALL who had received either dexamethasone or prednisone during treatment, no meaningful differences in mean neurocognitive and academic performance scores were observed. In contrast, in a study of 567 adult survivors of childhood leukemia (mean age, 33 years; mean time since diagnosis, 26 years) dexamethasone exposure was associated with increased risk of impairment in attention (relative risk [RR], 2.12; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.11–4.03) and executive function (RR, 2.42; 95% CI, 1.20–4.91), independent of methotrexate exposure. Intrathecal hydrocortisone also increased risk of attention problems (RR, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.05–1.46).

Other cancers

Neurocognitive abnormalities have been reported in other groups of cancer survivors. In a study of adult survivors of childhood non-CNS cancers (including ALL, n = 5,937), 13% to 21% of survivors reported impairment in task efficiency, organization, memory, or emotional regulation. This rate of impairment was approximately 50% higher than that reported in the sibling comparison group. Factors such as diagnosis before age 6 years, female sex, cranial radiation therapy, and hearing impediment were associated with impairment. In addition, emerging data suggest that the development of chronic health conditions in adulthood may contribute to cognitive deficits in long-term survivors of non-CNS cancers.

Neurocognitive abnormalities have been reported for the following cancers:

  • Osteosarcoma. In a study evaluating neurocognitive function among 80 long-term survivors of osteosarcoma (mean time since diagnosis, 24.7 years), survivors demonstrated lower mean scores in reading skills, attention, memory, and processing speed than did community controls. The presence of cardiac, pulmonary, and endocrine conditions were significantly associated with worse performance on measures of memory and processing speed.
  • Retinoblastoma. Early studies of intellectual functioning in survivors of retinoblastoma suggested above average intelligence among bilateral survivors compared with unaffected siblings and the general population, especially those who were blind as a result of their disease.

    Later studies have yielded mixed results. For example, serial assessment of cognitive and adaptive functioning in a group of survivors younger than 6 years revealed declines in developmental functioning over time. The most pronounced declines were observed in patients with 13q deletion. In contrast, a study of long-term adult survivors, who were on average 33 years postdiagnosis, demonstrated largely average cognitive functioning across domains of intelligence, memory, attention, and executive function. These conflicting findings may be attributed, in part, to the low test-retest reliability of measures used to assess cognitive outcomes at a very young age, as well as temporal differences in treatment exposures.

  • Lymphoma. Survivors of lymphoma have not historically been considered at risk of developing neurocognitive late effects. However, reports suggest that more than two-thirds of survivors of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma experience at least mild neurocognitive impairment, including severe deficits in executive function (13%), attention (9%), and memory (4%). Similarly, in a study of 62 adult survivors of childhood Hodgkin lymphoma, survivors demonstrated worse performance on measures of sustained attention, short- and long-term memory, and cognitive fluency when compared with national normative data. Importantly, measures of cardiac and pulmonary function also were associated with neurocognitive impairment in this group of survivors.

Stem cell transplantation

Cognitive and academic consequences of stem cell transplantation in children have also been evaluated and include, but are not limited to, the following:

Most neurocognitive late effects after stem cell transplantation are thought to be related to white matter damage in the brain. This was investigated in children with leukemia who were treated with HSCT. In a series of 36 patients, performance on neurocognitive measures typically associated with white matter was compared with performance on measures thought to correlate with gray matter function. Composite white matter scores were significantly lower than composite gray matter scores, thereby supporting the belief that white matter damage contributes to neurocognitive late effects in this population.

Neurologic Sequelae

Risk of neurologic complications may be predisposed by the following:

  • Tumor location.
  • Neurosurgery.
  • Cranial radiation therapy.
  • Specific neurotoxic chemotherapeutic agents.

In children with CNS tumors, mass effect, tumor infiltration, and increased intracranial pressure may result in motor or sensory deficits, cerebellar dysfunction, and secondary effects such as seizures and cerebrovascular complications. Numerous reports describe abnormalities of CNS integrity and function, but such studies are typically limited by small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, cross-sectional ascertainment of outcomes, and variable time of assessment from treatment exposures. In contrast, relatively few studies comprehensively or systematically ascertain outcomes related to peripheral nervous system function.

Neurologic complications that may occur in survivors of childhood cancer include the following:

  • Seizures. The development of seizures may occur secondary to tumor mass effect within the CNS and/or as a result of neurotoxic CNS-directed therapies.
    • An early report from the CCSS estimated the prevalence of seizures to be 25% among 5-year survivors of childhood brain tumors, with 6.5% of those constituting a late first occurrence. Radiation dose of 30 Gy or higher to any cortical segment of the brain was associated with a twofold elevated risk of developing a late seizure disorder. In a CCSS report of 380 5-year survivors of medulloblastoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumors, survivors who received more than 50 Gy of cranial irradiation to the temporal/frontal lobe were 2.1 times more likely to develop seizures than were survivors who received less than 50 Gy of radiation.
    • Among survivors of childhood leukemia in the CCSS (N = 4,151; 64.5% treated with cranial irradiation), 6.1% reported the development of a seizure disorder, and seizures occurred more than 5 years after diagnosis in 51% of these patients.
  • Leukoencephalopathy. Clinical or radiographic leukoencephalopathy has been reported after cranial irradiation and high-dose systemic methotrexate administration. Younger patients and those treated with cranial radiation doses higher than 24 Gy are more vulnerable to reduced white matter volumes associated with leukoencephalopathy. White matter changes may be accompanied by other neuroimaging abnormalities, including dystrophic calcifications, cerebral lacunae, and cerebral atrophy.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. Vinca alkaloid agents (vincristine and vinblastine) and cisplatin may cause peripheral neuropathy. This condition presents during treatment and appears to improve or clinically resolve after completion of therapy. However, higher cumulative doses of vincristine and/or intrathecal methotrexate have been linked to neuromuscular impairments in long-term survivors of childhood ALL, which suggests that persistent effects of these agents may affect functional status in aging survivors.

    Among adult survivors of extracranial solid tumors of childhood (median time from diagnosis, 25 years), standardized assessment of neuromuscular function disclosed motor impairment in association with vincristine exposure and sensory impairment in association with cisplatin exposure. Survivors with sensory impairment demonstrated a higher prevalence of functional performance limitations related to poor endurance and mobility restrictions. These studies underscore the importance of assessment and referral to rehabilitative services to optimize functional outcomes among long-term survivors.

  • Stroke. Refer to the Cerebrovascular disease section of this summary for information on stroke.
  • Other neurologic sequelae. In a report from the CCSS that compared self-reported neurologic late effects among 4,151 adult survivors of childhood ALL with siblings, survivors were at elevated risk for late-onset coordination problems, motor problems, seizures, and headaches. The overall cumulative incidence was 44% at 20 years. Serious headaches were most common, with a cumulative incidence of 25.8% at 20 years, followed by focal neurologic dysfunction (21.2%) and seizures (7%). Children who were treated with regimens that included cranial irradiation for ALL and those who suffered relapse were at increased risk for late-onset neurologic sequelae.

    In a cross-sectional study that evaluated neurologic morbidity and quality of life in 162 survivors of childhood ALL (median age at evaluation, 15.7 years; median time from completion of therapy, 7.4 years) in concert with a clinical neurologic exam, neurologic symptoms were present in 83% of survivors, but symptom-related morbidity was low and quality of life was high in most survivors. The most commonly reported symptoms included neuropathy (63%), headache (46.9%), dizziness (33.3%), and back pain (22.8%). Female sex, ten doses or more of intrathecal chemotherapy, cranial irradiation, CNS leukemia at diagnosis, and history of ALL relapse were associated with neurologic morbidity.

    Neuroimaging studies of irradiated and nonirradiated ALL survivors demonstrate a variety of CNS abnormalities, including leukoencephalopathy, cerebral lacunes, cerebral atrophy, and dystrophic calcifications (mineralizing microangiopathy). Among these, abnormalities of cerebral white matter integrity and volume have been correlated with neurocognitive outcomes.

    Cavernomas have also been observed in ALL survivors treated with cranial irradiation. They have been speculated to result from angiogenic processes as opposed to tumorigenesis.

Table 3 summarizes CNS late effects and the related health screenings.


Many childhood cancer survivors report reduced quality of life or other adverse psychosocial outcomes. Evidence for adverse psychosocial adjustment after childhood cancer has been derived from a number of sources, ranging from patient-reported or proxy-reported outcomes to data from population-based registries. The former may be limited by small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, and variable methods and venues (clinical vs. distance-based survey) of assessments. The latter is often not well correlated with clinical and treatment characteristics that permit the identification of survivors at high risk of psychosocial deficits.

Survivors with neurocognitive deficits are particularly vulnerable to adverse psychosocial outcomes that affect achievement of expected social outcomes during adulthood.

  • In a population-based study of adult survivors of CNS tumors diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, survivors had significantly poorer self-perception and self-esteem than did individuals in the general population. Female sex, persistent visible physical sequelae, specific tumor type, and treatment with cranial radiation therapy predicted poor self-perception outcomes.
  • In a series of CNS malignancy survivors (n = 802) reported from the CCSS, adverse outcome on multiple indicators of successful adult adjustment (educational achievement, income, employment, and marital status) were most prevalent among survivors who reported neurocognitive dysfunction.
  • Collectively, studies evaluating psychosocial outcomes among CNS tumor survivors indicate deficits in social competence that worsen over time. This includes problems with peer rejection and isolation in childhood/adolescence, as well as the inability to develop friendships and romantic relationships as adults.
  • In a CCSS study that evaluated predictors of independent living status across diagnostic groups, adult survivors of childhood cancer with neurocognitive, psychological, or physical late effects were less likely to live independently as adults than were siblings in the comparison group.
  • In a St. Jude Lifetime Cohort study of 224 survivors of CNS tumors (median current age, 26 years; median time from diagnosis, 18 years), neurocognitive impairment was significantly associated with lower educational attainment, unemployment, and nonindependent living.

Childhood cancer survivors are also at risk of developing symptoms of psychological distress. In a longitudinal study of more than 4,500 survivors, subgroups of survivors were found to be at risk of developing persistent and increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression during a 16-year period. Survivors who reported pain and worsening health status were at the greatest risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and somatization over time.

Adult survivors of childhood cancer are also at risk of suicide ideation compared with siblings, with survivors of CNS tumors being most likely to report thoughts of suicide. In a CCSS study that evaluated the prevalence of recurrent suicidal ideation among 9,128 adult long-term survivors of childhood cancer, survivors were more likely to report late suicidal ideation (odds ratio [OR], 1.9; 95% CI, 1.5–2.5) and recurrent suicidal ideation (OR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.8–3.8) compared with siblings. History of seizure was associated with a twofold increased likelihood of suicide ideation in survivors. In a population-based study that evaluated suicide among adults treated for cancer before age 25 years, the absolute risk of suicide was low (24 cases among 3,375 deaths), but the hazard ratio (HR) of suicide was increased among individuals treated for cancer in childhood (0–14 years; HR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.7–3.8) and in adolescence and young adulthood (15–24 years; HR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.2–4.6).

The presence of chronic health conditions can also impact aspects of psychological health. In a study that evaluated psychological outcomes among long-term survivors treated with HSCT, 22% of survivors and 8% of sibling controls reported adverse outcomes. Somatic distress was the most prevalent condition and affected 15% of HSCT survivors, representing a threefold higher risk compared with siblings. HSCT survivors with severe or life-threatening health conditions and active chronic GVHD had a twofold increased risk of somatic distress. A report from the CCSS revealed that the presence of chronic pulmonary, endocrine, and cardiac conditions was associated with increased risk of psychological distress symptoms in a sample of 5,021 adult survivors of childhood cancer.

Incorporation of psychological screening into clinical visits for childhood cancer survivors may be valuable; however, limiting such evaluations to those returning to long-term follow-up clinics may result in a biased subsample of survivors with more difficulties, and precise prevalence rates may be difficult to establish. A review of behavioral, emotional, and social adjustment among survivors of childhood brain tumors illustrates this point, with the prevalence of psychological maladjustment ranging from 25% to 93%. In a study of 101 adult cancer survivors of childhood cancer, psychological screening was performed during a routine annual evaluation at the survivorship clinic at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. On the Symptom Checklist 90 Revised, 32 subjects had a positive screen (indicating psychological distress), and 14 subjects reported at least one suicidal symptom. Risk factors for psychological distress included subjects’ dissatisfaction with physical appearance, poor physical health, and treatment with cranial irradiation. In this study, the instrument was shown to be feasible for use in the clinic visit setting because the psychological screening was completed in less than 30 minutes. In addition, completion of the instrument itself did not appear to cause distress in the survivors in 80% of cases. These data support the feasibility and importance of consistent assessment of psychosocial distress in a medical clinic setting.

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Adjustment to Cancer: Anxiety and Distress for more information about psychological distress and cancer patients.)

Post-traumatic stress after childhood cancer

Despite the many stresses associated with the diagnosis of cancer and its treatment, studies have generally shown low levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children with cancer, typically no higher than those in healthy comparison children. Patient and parent adaptive style appear to be significant determinants of PTSD in the pediatric oncology setting.

The prevalence of PTSD and post-traumatic stress symptoms has been reported in 15% to 20% of young adult survivors of childhood cancer, with estimates varying based on criteria used to define these conditions.

  • Survivors with PTSD reported more psychological problems and negative beliefs about their illness and health status than did those without PTSD.
  • A subset of adult survivors (9%) from the CCSS reported functional impairment and/or clinical distress in addition to the set of symptoms consistent with a full diagnosis of PTSD. This was significantly more prevalent in survivors than in sibling comparisons. In this study, PTSD was significantly associated with being unmarried, having an annual income of less than $20,000, being unemployed, having a high school education or less, and being older than 30 years. Survivors who were treated with cranial irradiation before age 4 years were at particularly high risk for PTSD. Intensive cancer-directed therapy was also associated with increased risk of full PTSD.

Because avoidance of places and persons associated with the cancer is part of PTSD, the syndrome may interfere with obtaining appropriate health care. Those with PTSD perceive greater current threats to their lives or the lives of their children. Other risk factors include poor family functioning, decreased social support, and noncancer stressors.

Psychosocial outcomes among childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer survivors

Most research on late effects after cancer has focused on individuals with a cancer manifestation during childhood. Little is known about the specific impact of a cancer diagnosis with an onset in adolescence or the impact of childhood cancer on adolescent and young adult (AYA) psychosocial outcomes.

Evidence (psychosocial outcomes in AYA cancer survivors):

It should be noted that social withdrawal in adolescence has been associated with adult obesity and physical inactivity. As a result, these psychological problems may increase future risk for chronic health conditions and support the need to routinely screen and treat psychological problems after cancer therapy.

Because of the challenges experienced by adolescents and young adults at cancer diagnosis and during long-term follow-up, this group may benefit from access to programs to address the unique psychosocial, educational, and vocational issues that impact their transition to survivorship.

Refer to the for CNS and psychosocial late effects information, including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Digestive System



Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and local surgery can cause multiple cosmetic and functional abnormalities of the oral cavity and dentition. The quality of current evidence regarding this outcome is limited by retrospective data collection, small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, and heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment.

Oral and dental complications reported in childhood cancer survivors include the following:

  • Abnormalities of tooth development.
  • Salivary gland dysfunction.
  • Abnormalities of craniofacial development.

Osteoradionecrosis and second cancers in the oral cavity also occur.

Abnormalities of tooth development

Abnormalities of dental development reported in childhood cancer survivors include the following:

  • Absence of tooth development.
  • Hypodontia.
  • Microdontia.
  • Enamel hypoplasia.
  • Root malformation.

The prevalence of hypodontia has varied widely in series depending on age at diagnosis, treatment modality, and method of ascertainment.

Cancer treatments that have been associated with dental maldevelopment include the following:

  • Head and neck radiation therapy.
  • Any chemotherapy.
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

Children younger than 5 years are at greatest risk for dental anomalies, including root agenesis, delayed eruption, enamel defects, and/or excessive caries related to disruption of ameloblast (enamel producing) and odontoblast (dentin producing) activity early in life.

Key findings related to cancer treatment effect on tooth development include the following:

Salivary gland dysfunction

Xerostomia, the sensation of dry mouth, is a potential side effect after head and neck irradiation or HSCT that can severely impact quality of life. Complications of reduced salivary secretion include the following:

  • Increased caries.
  • Susceptibility to oral infections.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Difficulties with chewing, swallowing, and speaking.

The prevalence of salivary gland dysfunction after cancer treatment varies based on measurement techniques (patient report vs. stimulated or unstimulated salivary secretion rates). In general, the prevalence of self-reported persistent posttherapy xerostomia is low among childhood cancer survivors. In the CCSS, the prevalence of self-reported xerostomia in survivors was 2.8% compared with 0.3% in siblings, with an increased risk in survivors older than 30 years.

Key findings related to cancer treatment effect on salivary gland function include the following:

The impact of infectious complications and alterations in the microflora during and after therapy is not known.

Abnormalities of craniofacial development

Craniofacial maldevelopment is a common adverse outcome among children treated with high-dose radiation therapy to the head and neck that frequently occurs in association with other oral cavity sequelae such as dental anomalies, xerostomia, and trismus. The extent and severity of musculoskeletal disfigurement is related to age at treatment and radiation therapy volume and dose, with higher risk observed among younger patients and those who received 30 Gy or more.

Osteoradionecrosis of the jaw is a rare complication observed in childhood survivors treated with high-dose craniofacial radiation (>40 Gy).

Remediation of cosmetic and functional abnormalities often requires multiple surgical interventions.

Posttherapy management

Some studies suggest that fluoride products or chlorhexidine rinses may be beneficial in patients who have undergone radiation therapy. Dental caries are a problematic consequence of reduced salivary quality and flow. The use of topical fluoride can dramatically reduce the frequency of caries, and saliva substitutes and sialagogues can ameliorate sequelae such as xerostomia.

It has been reported that the incidence of dental visits for childhood cancer survivors falls below the American Dental Association's recommendation that all adults visit the dentist annually. The Children’s Oncology Group Long-term Follow-Up Guidelines recommend biannual dental cleaning and exams for all survivors of childhood cancer. These findings give health care providers further impetus to encourage routine dental care and dental hygiene evaluations for survivors of childhood treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Oral Complications of Chemotherapy and Head/Neck Radiation for more information about oral complications in cancer patients.)

Table 4 summarizes oral and dental late effects and the related health screenings.

Digestive Tract


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is sensitive to the acute toxicities of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. However, these important treatment modalities can also result in some long-term issues in a treatment- and dose-dependent manner. Reports published about long-term GI tract outcomes are limited by retrospective data collection, small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment.

Treatment-related late effects include the following:

  • Upper and lower digestive tract late effects associated with dose intensity of chemotherapy and/or abdominal radiation.
  • Adhesions secondary to abdominal surgery predisposing to postoperative bowel obstruction.

Digestive tract–related late effects include the following:

  • Esophageal dysmotility.
  • Esophageal stricture.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Gastritis, enteritis, or colitis.
  • GI motility dysfunction (diarrhea, constipation, encopresis, bowel obstruction).
  • Subsequent malignant neoplasms

GI outcomes from selected cohort studies

Evidence (GI outcomes from selected cohort studies):

Impact of cancer histology on GI outcomes

Intra-abdominal tumors represent a relatively common location for several pediatric malignancies, including rhabdomyosarcoma, Wilms tumor, lymphoma, germ cell tumors, and neuroblastoma. Intra-abdominal tumors often require multimodal therapy, occasionally necessitating resection of bowel, bowel-injuring chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Thus, these tumors would be expected to be particularly prone to long-term digestive tract issues.

A limited number of reports describe GI complications in pediatric patients with genitourinary solid tumors treated with radiation therapy:

Table 5 summarizes digestive tract late effects and the related health screenings.



Hepatic complications resulting from childhood cancer therapy are observed primarily as acute treatment toxicities. Because many chemotherapy agents and radiation are hepatotoxic, transient liver function anomalies are common during therapy. Severe acute hepatic complications rarely occur. Survivors of childhood cancer can occasionally exhibit long-standing hepatic injury.

Some general concepts regarding hepatotoxicity related to childhood cancer include the following:

  • The risk of long-term hepatotoxicity is not well defined.
  • Children with primary liver tumors requiring significant liver resection, or even transplant, are at higher risk of liver injury.
  • Children receiving radiation therapy to the liver are at higher risk of liver injury.
  • Children undergoing bone marrow transplant are at higher risk of liver injury.

Certain factors, including the type of chemotherapy, the dose and extent of radiation exposure, the influence of surgical interventions, and the evolving impact of viral hepatitis and/or other infectious complication, need additional attention in future studies.

Types of hepatobiliary late effects

Asymptomatic elevation of liver enzymes is the most common hepatobiliary complication.

  • Asymptomatic elevation of liver enzymes. Liver injury related to treatment for childhood cancer is often asymptomatic and indolent in course. While elevated serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT) levels can reflect transient acute liver injury during chemotherapy, they are not predictive of late hepatic dysfunction or cirrhosis.

    Dutch investigators observed hepatobiliary dysfunction in 8.7% of 1,362 long-term survivors (median follow-up, 12.4 years since diagnosis) evaluated by ALT for hepatocellular injury and GGT for biliary tract injury. Cases with a history of viral hepatitis and a history of veno-occlusive disease were excluded. Predictors for elevated ALT and GGT by multivariable analysis included treatment with radiation therapy involving the liver, higher body mass index (BMI), higher alcohol intake, and longer follow-up time; older age at diagnosis was only significantly associated with elevated GGT levels. In a CCSS report, survivors of childhood cancer were more than two times more likely to report a hepatic-related health issue and were nearly nine times more likely to report cirrhosis, compared with sibling controls.

Less commonly reported hepatobiliary complications include the following:

  • Cholelithiasis. In limited studies, an increased risk of cholelithiasis has been linked to ileal conduit, parenteral nutrition, abdominal surgery, abdominal radiation therapy, and HSCT. Gallbladder disease was the most frequent late-onset liver condition reported among participants in the CCSS, with a twofold excess risk compared with sibling controls (RR, 2.0; 95% CI, 2.0–40.0).
  • Focal nodular hyperplasia. Lesions made up of regenerating liver called focal nodular hyperplasia have been incidentally noted on screening imaging studies after chemotherapy or HSCT.

    These lesions are thought to be iatrogenic benign manifestations of vascular damage and have been associated with veno-occlusive disease, high-dose alkylating agents (e.g., busulfan and melphalan), and liver irradiation. The prevalence of this finding is unknown; while noted at less than 1% in some papers, this is likely an underestimate. In one study of patients who were followed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) after transplant to assess liver iron stores, the cumulative incidence was 35% at 150 months posttransplant.

    The lesions can mimic metastatic or subsequent tumors, but MRI imaging has a characteristic pattern and is generally diagnostic. Biopsy or resection is usually unnecessary unless the lesions grow or patients have worrisome symptoms.

  • Nodular regenerative hyperplasia. Nodular regenerative hyperplasia is a rare condition characterized by the development of multiple monoacinar regenerative hepatic nodules and mild fibrosis. The pathogenesis is not well established but may represent a nonspecific tissue adaptation to heterogeneous hepatic blood flow. Nodular regenerative hyperplasia has rarely been observed in survivors of childhood cancer treated with chemotherapy, with or without liver irradiation.

    Biopsy may be necessary to distinguish nodular regenerative hyperplasia from a subsequent malignancy.

  • Microvesicular fatty change. In a cohort who recently completed intensified therapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, histologic evidence of fatty infiltration was noted in 93% and siderosis in up to 70% of patients. Fibrosis developed in 11% and was associated with higher serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Fatty liver with insulin resistance has also been reported to develop more frequently in long-term childhood cancer survivors treated with cranial radiation therapy before allogeneic stem cell transplantation who were not overweight or obese. Prospective studies are needed to define whether acute posttherapy fatty liver change contributes to the development of late steatohepatitis or the metabolic syndrome in this population.
  • Transfusion-related iron overload. Red blood cell transfusion can result in an accumulation of excess iron due to disruption of the homeostasis of iron storage and distribution when exogenous iron is loaded into organs. Transfusional iron overload has been reported in pediatric oncology patients, but its prevalence, organ distribution, and severity remain incompletely characterized.

    MRI has emerged as an accurate, noninvasive means for measuring iron in multiple organ systems. In a cross-sectional study of 75 patients (4.4 years of median follow-up time; 4.9 years since last transfusion), MRI iron concentrations were elevated in the liver (49.3%) and pancreas (26.4%), but not in the heart.

    In a multivariable analysis, cumulative packed red blood cell volume and older age at diagnosis predicted elevated liver iron concentration. Receipt of allogeneic transplantation is a significant risk factor. A study of 116 childhood cancer survivors identified three patients (2.6%) with ferritin greater than 500 ng/mL. The total packed red blood cell volume correlated with elevated ferritin (r = 0.74; < .0001). Additional research is needed to better characterize survivors at risk of clinically significant transfusion-related iron overload who warrant interventions to reduce iron burden and organ dysfunction.

Treatment-related risk factors for hepatobiliary late effects

The type and intensity of previous therapy influences risk for late-occurring hepatobiliary effects. In addition to the risk of treatment-related toxicity, recipients of HSCT frequently experience chronic liver dysfunction related to microvascular, immunologic, infectious, metabolic, and other toxic etiologies.

Key findings related to cancer treatment effect on hepatobiliary complications include the following:

Infectious risk factors for hepatobiliary late effects

Viral hepatitis B and C may complicate the treatment course of childhood cancer and result in chronic hepatic dysfunction. Hepatitis B tends to have a more aggressive acute clinical course and a lower rate of chronic infection. Hepatitis C is characterized by a mild acute infection and a high rate of chronic infection. The incidence of transfusion-related hepatitis C in childhood cancer survivors has ranged from 5% to 50% depending on the geographic location of the reporting center.

Chronic hepatitis predisposes the childhood cancer survivor to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Concurrent infection with hepatitis B and C in combination or in co-occurrence with other hepatotrophic viruses accelerates the progression of liver disease.

Because most patients received some type of blood product during childhood cancer treatment and many are unaware of their transfusion history, screening on the basis of date of diagnosis/treatment is recommended unless there is absolute certainty that the patient did not receive any blood or blood products. Therefore, all survivors of childhood cancer who received treatment before 1972 should be screened for hepatitis B, and those who received treatment before 1993 should be screened for hepatitis C and referred for discussion of treatment options if screening results are positive.

Posttherapy management

Survivors with liver dysfunction should be counseled regarding risk-reduction methods to prevent hepatic injury. Standard recommendations include maintenance of a healthy body weight, abstinence from alcohol use, and immunization against hepatitis A and B viruses. In patients with chronic hepatitis, precautions to reduce viral transmission to household and sexual contacts should also be reviewed.

Table 6 summarizes hepatobiliary late effects and the related health screenings.


The pancreas has been thought to be relatively radioresistant because of a paucity of information about late pancreatic-related effects. However, children and young adults treated with TBI or abdominal irradiation are known to have an increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus. While corticosteroids and asparaginase are associated with acute toxicity to the pancreas, late sequelae in the form of exocrine or endocrine pancreatic function for those who sustain acute injury have not been reported.

Evidence (risk of diabetes mellitus):

Refer to the for digestive system late effects information including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Endocrine System

Endocrine dysfunction is very common among childhood cancer survivors, especially those treated with surgery or radiation therapy that involves hormone-producing organs and those receiving alkylating agent chemotherapy.

Chart showing the prevalence of endocrine disorders at the last follow-up visit by gender.Figure 7. Prevalence of endocrine disorders at the last follow-up visit, by sex. Copyright © 2013, European Society of Endocrinology.

The prevalence of specific endocrine disorders is affected by the following:

  • Patient factors (e.g., age at treatment and sex).
  • Treatment factors (e.g., radiation dose and treatment volume).
  • Time from radiation exposure (typically increases with longer time from radiation exposure [refer to Figure 7]).

Endocrinologic late effects can be broadly categorized as those resulting from hypothalamic/pituitary injury or from peripheral compromise. The former are most common after treatment for central nervous system (CNS) tumors, where the prevalence was reported to be 24.8% in a nationwide cohort study of 718 survivors who lived longer than 2 years and all hypothalamic/pituitary axes were effected.

The following sections summarize research that characterizes the clinical features of survivors at risk of endocrine dysfunction that impacts pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and gonadal function.

Thyroid Gland

Thyroid dysfunction is a common delayed effect of radiation therapy fields that include the thyroid gland incidental to treating Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), brain tumors, head and neck sarcomas, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). There is considerable evidence linking radiation exposure to thyroid abnormalities, but the prevalence of specific conditions varies widely because studies are limited by cohort selection and participation bias, heterogeneity in radiation treatment approach, time since radiation exposure, and method of ascertainment (e.g., self-report vs. clinical or diagnostic imaging assessment).

Thyroid abnormalities observed in excess in childhood cancer survivors include the following:

  • Primary hypothyroidism.
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Goiter.
  • Nodules.


Of children treated with radiation therapy, most develop hypothyroidism within the first 2 to 5 years posttreatment, but new cases can occur later. Reports of thyroid dysfunction differ depending on the dose of radiation, the length of follow-up, and the biochemical criteria utilized to make the diagnosis. The most frequently reported abnormalities include:

  • Elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
  • Depressed thyroxine (T).
  • Elevated TSH and depressed T.

Compensated hypothyroidism includes an elevated TSH with a normal T and is asymptomatic. The natural history is unclear, but most endocrinologists support treatment. Uncompensated hypothyroidism includes both an elevated TSH and a depressed T. Thyroid hormone replacement is beneficial for correction of the metabolic abnormality, and has clinical benefits for cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and neurocognitive function.

An increased risk of hypothyroidism has been reported among childhood cancer survivors treated with head and neck radiation exposing the thyroid gland, especially among survivors of HL.

Evidence (prevalence of and risk factors for hypothyroidism):

Thyroid nodules

Any radiation field that includes the thyroid is associated with an excess risk of thyroid neoplasms, which may be benign (usually adenomas) or malignant (most often differentiated papillary carcinoma). The clinical manifestation of thyroid neoplasia among childhood cancer survivors ranges from asymptomatic, small, solitary nodules to large, intrathoracic goiters that compress adjacent structures. CCSS investigators performed a nested case-control study to evaluate the magnitude of risk for thyroid cancer over the therapeutic radiation dose range of pediatric cancers. The risk of thyroid cancer increased with radiation doses up to 20 Gy to 29 Gy (odds ratio [OR], 9.8; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.2–34.8), but declined at doses higher than 30 Gy, consistent with a cell-killing effect.

The following factors are linked to an increased risk of thyroid nodule development:

  • Time from diagnosis, female sex, and radiation dose. In a study of HL survivors, CCSS investigators identified time from diagnosis, female sex, and radiation dose of 25 Gy or higher as significant risk factors for thyroid nodule development. Based on a cohort of 3,254 2-year childhood cancer survivors treated before 1986 and monitored for 25 years, the risk of thyroid adenoma increased with the size of the radiation dose to the thyroid during childhood cancer treatment and plateaued at doses exceeding 10 Gy.
  • Age at time of radiation therapy. Based on the same cohort of 3,254 2-year childhood cancer survivors, the risk of thyroid adenoma per unit of radiation dose to the thyroid was higher if radiation therapy had been delivered before age 5 years; the risk was also higher in individuals who were younger than 40 years at the time of the study. Younger age at radiation therapy has also been linked to an excess risk of thyroid carcinoma.
  • Exposure to iodine I 131-metaiodobenzylguanidine (131I-MIBG). During childhood and adolescence, there is an increased incidence of developing thyroid nodules, and potentially thyroid cancer, for patients exposed to 131I-MIBG. Children who have been treated with 131I-MIBG should undergo lifelong monitoring, not only for thyroid function but also for the development of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.
  • Chemotherapy. Whereas the risk of thyroid cancer is known to be increased by exposure to radiation therapy and 131I-MIBG, an increased risk of thyroid nodules and cancer has also been observed in association with chemotherapy, independent of radiation exposure.

    In a pooled study of two cohorts of 16,757 survivors that included 187 patients with secondary thyroid cancer, treatments with alkylating agents, anthracyclines, or bleomycin were associated with a significantly increased risk of thyroid cancer in individuals not exposed to radiation therapy. In the CCSS, the RR of developing thyroid cancer was 2.5 ( < .01) in survivors not treated with thyroid radiation when compared with sibling controls. Defining the precise role of exposure to chemotherapy and developing risk prediction models for thyroid cancer in childhood cancer survivors on the basis of demographic and treatment-related risk factors are areas of active research.

Several investigations have demonstrated the superiority of ultrasound to clinical exam for detecting thyroid nodules and thyroid cancers and characterized ultrasonographic features of nodules that are more likely to be malignant. However, primary screening for thyroid neoplasia (beyond physical exam with thyroid palpation) remains controversial because of the lack of data indicating a survival benefit and quality-of-life benefit associated with early detection and intervention. In fact, because these lesions tend to be indolent, are rarely life-threatening, and may clinically manifest many years after exposure to radiation, there are significant concerns regarding the costs and harms of overscreening. Expert panels have refrained from specifically endorsing or discouraging the use of ultrasound as a screening tool for thyroid cancer and this continues to be an active area of investigation.

(Refer to the Subsequent Neoplasms section of this summary for information about subsequent thyroid cancers.)

Posttransplant thyroid dysfunction

Survivors of pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) are at increased risk of thyroid dysfunction, with the risk being much lower (15%–16%) after fractionated total-body irradiation (TBI), as opposed to single-dose TBI (46%–48%). Non–TBI-containing regimens historically were not associated with an increased risk. However, in a report from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the increased risk of thyroid dysfunction did not differ between children receiving a TBI-based or busulfan-based regimen ( = .48). Other high-dose therapies have not been studied.

TSH deficiency (central hypothyroidism) is discussed with late effects that affect the pituitary gland.

Table 7 summarizes thyroid late effects and the related health screenings.

Pituitary Gland

Survivors of childhood cancer are at risk of developing a spectrum of neuroendocrine abnormalities, primarily because of the effect of radiation therapy on the hypothalamus. In addition, tumor development or surgical resection close to the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland may induce direct anatomical damage to these structures and result in hypothalamic/pituitary dysfunction. Essentially all of the hypothalamic-pituitary axes are at risk.

Although the quality of the literature regarding pituitary endocrinopathy among childhood cancer survivors is often limited by retrospective data collection, small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment, the evidence linking this outcome with radiation therapy, surgery, and tumor infiltration is quite compelling because affected individuals typically present with metabolic and developmental abnormalities early in follow-up.

Central diabetes insipidus

Central diabetes insipidus may herald the diagnosis of craniopharyngioma, suprasellar germ cell tumor, or Langerhans cell histiocytosis. In these conditions, diabetes insipidus may occur as an isolated pituitary deficiency, although additional pituitary hormone deficiencies may develop with tumor progression. More commonly, however, diabetes insipidus occurs in the context of panhypopituitarism caused by the presence of a tumor in close proximity to the sellar region or as a consequence of surgical procedures undertaken for local tumor control.

Central diabetes insipidus has not been reported as a late effect of cranial irradiation in childhood cancer survivors.

Anterior pituitary hormone deficiency

Deficiencies of anterior pituitary hormones and major hypothalamic regulatory factors are common late effects among survivors treated with cranial irradiation.

Evidence (prevalence of anterior pituitary hormone deficiency):

The six anterior pituitary hormones and their major hypothalamic regulatory factors are outlined in Table 8.

Growth hormone deficiency

Growth hormone deficiency is the earliest hormonal deficiency associated with cranial radiation therapy in childhood cancer survivors. The risk increases with radiation dose and time since treatment. Growth hormone deficiency is sensitive to low doses of radiation. Other hormone deficiencies require higher doses, and their time to onset is much longer than for growth hormone deficiency. The prevalence in pooled analysis was found to be approximately 35.6%.

Growth hormone deficiency is commonly observed in these long-term survivors because of radiation doses used in the treatment of childhood brain tumors. Approximately 60% to 80% of irradiated pediatric brain tumor patients who received doses higher than 30 Gy will have impaired serum growth hormone (GH) response to provocative stimulation, usually within 5 years of treatment. The dose-response relationship has a threshold of 18 Gy to 20 Gy; the higher the radiation dose, the earlier that growth hormone deficiency will occur after treatment.

Evidence (radiation-dose response relationship of growth hormone deficiency):

Graph shows peak growth hormone (in ng/mL) according to hypothalamic mean dose and time (in months) after start of irradiation.Figure 9. Peak growth hormone (GH) according to hypothalamic mean dose and time after start of radiation. According to equation 2, peak GH = exp{2.5947 + time × [0.0019 − (0.00079 × mean dose)]}. Thomas E. Merchant, Susan R. Rose, Christina Bosley, Shengjie Wu, Xiaoping Xiong, and Robert H. Lustig, Growth Hormone Secretion After Conformal Radiation Therapy in Pediatric Patients With Localized Brain Tumors, Journal of Clinical Oncology, volume 29, issue 36, pages 4776-4780. Reprinted with permission. © (2011) American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.

Children treated with CNS-directed therapy for leukemia are also at increased risk of growth hormone deficiency.

Evidence (risk of growth hormone deficiency in childhood ALL survivors):

Children who undergo HSCT with TBI have a significant risk of both growth hormone deficiency and the direct effects of radiation on skeletal development. The risk is increased with single-dose TBI as opposed to fractionated TBI, pretransplant cranial irradiation, female sex, and posttreatment complications such as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Hyperfractionation of the TBI dose markedly reduces risk in patients who have not undergone pretransplant cranial irradiation for CNS leukemia prophylaxis or therapy. Regimens containing busulfan and cyclophosphamide appear to increase risk in some studies, but not others.

Evidence (growth hormone deficiency in childhood HSCT survivors):

Growth hormone deficiency replacement therapy

Growth hormone deficiency replacement therapy provides the benefit of optimizing height outcomes among children who have not reached skeletal maturity. Treatment with recombinant growth hormone (rGH) replacement therapy is generally delayed until 12 months after successful completion of cancer or brain tumor treatments and after a multidisciplinary discussion involving the prescribing pediatric endocrinologist, the primary oncologist, and other providers selected by the patient or family. Safety concerns pertaining to the use of rGH in childhood cancer survivors have primarily been related to the mitogenic potential of the growth hormone stimulating tumor growth in a population with an increased risk of second neoplasms. Most studies that report these outcomes, however, are limited by selection bias and small sample size.

The following study results have been reported in survivors who did or did not receive treatment with growth hormone.

Evidence (growth hormone deficiency replacement therapy):

In general, the data addressing subsequent malignancies should be interpreted with caution given the small number of events.

Disorders of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

Pubertal development can be adversely affected by cranial radiation therapy. Doses higher than 18 Gy can result in central precocious puberty, while doses higher than 30 Gy to 40 Gy may result in LH and FSH deficiency.

Central precocious puberty

Central precocious puberty is defined by the onset of pubertal development before age 8 years in girls and 9 years in boys as a result of the premature activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Aside from the adjustment and psychosocial challenges associated with early pubertal development, precocious puberty can lead to the rapid closure of the skeletal growth plates and short stature. This deleterious effect can be further potentiated by growth hormone deficiency. The increased growth velocity induced by pubertal development can mask concurrent growth hormone deficiency with seemingly normal growth velocity; this occurrence may mislead care providers. It is also important to note that the assessment of puberty cannot be performed using testicular volume measurements in boys exposed to chemotherapy or direct radiation to the testes, given the toxic effect of these treatments on germ cells and repercussions on gonadal size. The staging of puberty in males within this population relies on the presence of other signs of virilization, such as the presence of pubic hair and the measurement of plasma testosterone levels.

Children who have tumors that grow near the hypothalamus/pituitary or optic pathways (including those with neurofibromatosis type 1) have the highest risk of developing central precocious puberty. Hydrocephalus also seems to increase the risk of this complication. Central precocious puberty has been reported in some children receiving cranial irradiation in doses of 18 Gy or higher. The impact of central precocious puberty on linear growth can be ascertained by assessing the degree of skeletal maturation (or bone age) using an x-ray of the left hand.

When appropriate, delaying the progression of puberty relies on the use of various gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist preparations, an approach that has been shown to improve growth prospects—especially when other pituitary abnormalities, including growth hormone deficiency, are concurrently treated.

LH/FSH deficiency

LH/FSH deficiency (also referred to as hypogonadotropic hypogonadism) can manifest through pubertal delay, arrested puberty, or symptoms of decreased sex hormone production, depending on age and pubertal status at the time of diagnosis. The risk of LH/FSH deficiency is highest among patients treated with cranial radiation at doses greater than or equal to 30 Gy; LH/FSH deficiency following the exposure to lower doses can occur at delayed time points. With higher doses of cranial radiation therapy (>35 Gy), deficiencies in LH/FSH can be seen, with a cumulative incidence of 10% to 20% at 5 to 10 years posttreatment.

The treatment of LH/FSH deficiency relies on sex-hormone replacement therapy adjusted to age and pubertal status.

TSH deficiency

TSH deficiency (also referred to as central hypothyroidism) in survivors of childhood cancer can have profound clinical consequences and be underappreciated. Symptoms of central hypothyroidism (e.g., asthenia, edema, drowsiness, and skin dryness) may have a gradual onset and go unrecognized until thyroid replacement therapy is initiated. In addition to delayed puberty and slow growth, hypothyroidism may cause fatigue, dry skin, constipation, increased sleep requirement, and cold intolerance. Individuals with TSH deficiency have low plasma free T levels and either low or TSH levels.

The risk of TSH deficiency is highest among patients treated with cranial radiation at doses greater than or equal to 30 Gy; TSH deficiency following the exposure to lower doses can occur at delayed time points. Radiation dose to the hypothalamus in excess of 42 Gy is associated with an increased risk of developing TSH deficiency (44% ± 19% for dose of ≥42 Gy and 11% ± 8% for dose of <42 Gy). It occurs in as many as 65% of survivors of brain tumors, 43% of survivors of childhood nasopharyngeal tumors, 35% of bone marrow transplant recipients, and 10% to 15% of leukemia survivors.

Mixed primary and central hypothyroidism can also occur and reflects separate injuries to the thyroid gland and the hypothalamus (e.g., radiation injury to both structures). TSH values may be elevated and, in addition, the secretory dynamics of TSH are abnormal, with a blunted or absent TSH surge or a delayed peak response to TSH-releasing hormone (TRH). In a study of 208 childhood cancer survivors referred for evaluation of possible hypothyroidism or hypopituitarism, mixed hypothyroidism was present in 15 patients (7%). Among patients who received TBI (fractionated total doses of 12–14.4 Gy) or craniospinal radiation therapy (fractionated total cranial doses higher than 30 Gy), 15% had mixed hypothyroidism. In one study of 32 children treated for medulloblastoma, 56% developed hypothyroidism, including 38% with primary hypothyroidism and 19% with central hypothyroidism.

Thyroid hormone replacement therapy using levothyroxine represents the mainstay of treatment of TSH deficiency. The dose of levothyroxine needs to be adjusted solely using plasma free T levels; the levels of TSH are expected to remain low during therapy, given the central nature of this deficiency.

Adrenal-corticotropin (ACTH) deficiency

ACTH deficiency is less common than other neuroendocrine deficits but should be suspected in patients who have a history of brain tumor (regardless of therapy modality), cranial radiation therapy, growth hormone deficiency, or central hypothyroidism. Although uncommon, ACTH deficiency can occur in patients treated with intracranial radiation doses of less than 24 Gy and has been reported to occur in fewer than 3% of patients after chemotherapy alone.

The diagnosis should be suspected when low plasma levels of morning cortisol are measured (a screening cortisol level collected at 8 a.m. that is 10 µg/dL or more is reassuring for ACTH sufficiency, whereas a value of 5 µg/dL or lower is suspicious for insufficiency). Confirmation is necessary using dynamic testing such as the low-dose ACTH stimulation test. Because of the substantial risk of central adrenal insufficiency among survivors treated with cranial radiation doses exceeding 30 Gy to the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, endocrine monitoring with periodic dynamic testing as clinically indicated is recommended for this high-risk group.

Patients with partial ACTH deficiency may have only subtle symptoms unless they become ill. Illness can disrupt these patients’ usual homeostasis and cause a more severe, prolonged, or complicated course than expected. As in complete ACTH deficiency, incomplete or unrecognized ACTH deficiency can be life-threatening during concurrent illness.

The treatment of ACTH deficiency relies on replacement with hydrocortisone, including stress dosing in situations of illness to adjust to the body’s physiologically increased need for glucocorticoids.


Hyperprolactinemia has been described in patients who received radiation therapy to the hypothalamus in doses higher than 50 Gy or who underwent surgery that disrupted the integrity of the pituitary stalk. Primary hypothyroidism may lead to hyperprolactinemia as a result of hyperplasia of thyrotrophs and lactotrophs, presumably due to TRH hypersecretion. The prolactin response to TRH is usually exaggerated in these patients.

In general, hyperprolactinemia may result in delayed puberty, galactorrhea, menstrual irregularities, loss of libido, hot flashes, infertility, and osteopenia. However, hyperprolactinemia resulting from cranial radiation therapy is rarely symptomatic and, given its frequent associations with hypogonadism (both central and primary).

Hyperprolactinemia rarely requires treatment.

Table 9 summarizes pituitary gland late effects and the related health screenings.

Testis and Ovary

Testicular and ovarian hormonal functions are discussed in the Late Effects of the Reproductive System section of this summary.

Metabolic Syndrome

An increased risk of metabolic syndrome or its components has been observed among cancer survivors. The evidence for this outcome ranges from clinically manifested conditions that are self-reported by survivors to retrospectively assessed data in medical records and hospital registries to systematic clinical evaluations of clinically well-characterized cohorts. Studies have been limited by cohort selection and participation bias, heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment. Despite these limitations, compelling evidence indicates that metabolic syndrome is highly associated with cardiovascular events and mortality.

Definitions of metabolic syndrome are evolving but generally include a combination of central (abdominal) obesity with at least two of the following features:

  • Hypertension.
  • Atherogenic dyslipidemia (elevated triglycerides, reduced high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol).
  • Abnormal glucose metabolism (fasting hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinism, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus type 2).

Evidence (prevalence of and risk factors for metabolic syndrome in childhood cancer survivors):

Long-term survivors of ALL, especially those treated with cranial radiation therapy, may have a higher prevalence of some potentially modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as impaired glucose tolerance or overt diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and obesity. The contribution of modifiable risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome to the risk of major cardiac events suggests that survivors are good candidates for targeted screening and lifestyle counseling regarding risk-reduction measures.

Several studies have provided support for the potential benefits of lifestyle modifications in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

Evidence (lifestyle modifications to reduce cardiovascular risk in childhood cancer survivors):

Abnormal glucose metabolism

Abdominal radiation therapy and TBI are increasingly recognized as independent risk factors for diabetes mellitus in childhood cancer survivors.

Evidence (risk factors for diabetes mellitus in childhood cancer survivors):

Table 10 summarizes metabolic syndrome late effects and the related health screenings.

Body Composition: Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity

Childhood cancer survivors are at risk of experiencing abnormal body composition, which includes being underweight (BMI, <18.5), overweight (BMI, >25.0 to BMI, <30.0), or obese (BMI, ≥30.0). BMI at diagnosis has been identified as a significant predictor of being underweight or overweight at follow-up, suggesting that genetic or environmental factors contribute to the development or persistence of abnormal body composition.

CCSS investigators identified treatment-related risk factors for being underweight, including TBI (females) or abdominal irradiation (males), use of alkylating agents, and use of anthracyclines. Among a cohort of 893 Dutch childhood cancer survivors monitored for a median of almost 15 years, being underweight was linked to a high prevalence of moderate to extreme adverse health statuses and reports of a major medical condition.

To date, cancer patients with an increased incidence of being overweight and obese are primarily ALL and CNS tumor survivors who were treated with cranial radiation therapy. The development of obesity after cranial radiation therapy is multifactorial and includes the following:

  • Growth hormone deficiency.
  • Leptin sensitivity.
  • Reduced levels of physical activity and energy expenditure.

Also, craniopharyngioma survivors have a substantially increased risk of extreme obesity because of the tumor location and the hypothalamic damage resulting from surgical resection.

In addition to treatment factors, lifestyle factors and medication use can also contribute to the risk of obesity. CCSS investigators reported the following independent risk factors for obesity in childhood cancer survivors:

  • Cancer diagnosed at ages 5 to 9 years (RR, 1.12; 95% CI, 1.01–1.24).
  • Abnormal physical functioning (RR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.06–1.33).
  • Hypothalamic/pituitary radiation dose of 20 Gy to 30 Gy (RR, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.05–1.3; = .01).
  • Specific antidepressant use (paroxetine) (RR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.08–1.54).

Survivors who adhered to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for vigorous physical activity (RR, 0.90; 95% CI, 0.82–0.97; = .01) and who had a medium amount of anxiety (RR, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.75–0.99; = .04) had a lower risk of obesity.

Body composition alterations after childhood ALL

Moderate-dose cranial radiation therapy (18–24 Gy) among ALL survivors is associated with obesity, particularly in females treated at a young age. Female adult survivors of childhood ALL who were treated with cranial radiation therapy of 24 Gy before age 5 years are four times more likely to be obese than are women who have not been treated for a cancer. In addition, women treated with 18 Gy to 24 Gy cranial radiation therapy before age 10 years have a substantially greater rate of increase in their BMI through their young adult years than do women who were treated for ALL with only chemotherapy or women in the general population. It appears that these women also have a significantly increased visceral adiposity and associated insulin resistance.

These outcomes are attenuated in males. However, a study of long-term male survivors of ALL (mean age, 29 years) observed significantly higher body adiposity than in age-matched controls, despite normal weight and BMI. Potential indicators of increased adiposity included high leptin and low sex hormone–binding globulin levels. Serum testicular endocrine markers (testosterone, FSH, or inhibin B) did not correlate with body adiposity.

ALL therapy regimens are associated with increases in BMI shortly after completion of therapy, and possibly with a higher risk of obesity in the long term. Several studies have reported that survivors of childhood ALL treated with chemotherapy alone also exhibit long-term changes in body composition, with relative increases in body fat and visceral adiposity in comparison to lean mass. These changes cannot be detected if BMI alone is used in the assessment of metabolic risk in this population.

Evidence (body composition changes in adult survivors of childhood ALL):

Results from the CCSS, however, were based on self-reported height and weight measurements. Likewise, Children’s Oncology Group investigators also did not observe an increased risk of being overweight and obese based on BMI measurements in 269 patients with standard-risk ALL (age, 3.5 years at diagnosis and 13.3 years at follow-up) compared with peers without cancer. Again, these variable outcomes likely relate to the use of BMI as the metric for abnormal body composition, which does not adequately assess visceral adiposity that can contribute to metabolic risk in this population.

Body composition alterations after treatment for CNS tumors

Among brain tumor survivors treated with higher doses of cranial radiation therapy, only females treated at a younger age appear to be at increased risk for obesity.

Body composition alterations after hematopoietic cell transplantation

Survivors of childhood cancer treated with TBI in preparation for an allogeneic HSCT have increased measures of body fatness (percent fat) while often having a normal BMI. Longitudinal decline in BMI related to substantial decrease in lean mass has been observed among survivors of hematological malignancies treated with allogeneic HSCT. This finding was largely attributable to TBI conditioning and severity of chronic GVHD.

Body composition and frailty

Young adult childhood cancer survivors have a higher-than-expected prevalence of frailty, a phenotype characterized by low muscle mass, self-reported exhaustion, low energy expenditure, slow walking speed, and weakness. Individuals are termed if they have two of these five characteristics and if they have three or more of these characteristics. The frailty phenotype increases in prevalence with aging, and has been associated with excess risk of mortality and onset of chronic conditions. Ongoing research aims to elucidate the pathophysiology of frailty and develop/test interventions to prevent or reverse this condition.

Table 11 summarizes body composition late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for endocrine and metabolic syndrome late effects information, including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Immune System

Late effects of the immune system have not been well studied, especially in survivors treated with contemporary therapies. Reports published about long-term immune system outcomes are limited by retrospective data collection, small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment.


Surgical or functional splenectomy increases the risk of life-threatening invasive bacterial infection:

  • Although staging laparotomy is no longer standard practice for pediatric Hodgkin lymphoma, patients from earlier treatment periods have ongoing risks.
  • Children may be rendered asplenic by radiation therapy to the spleen in doses greater than 30 Gy. Low-dose involved-field radiation therapy (21 Gy) combined with multiagent chemotherapy did not appear to adversely affect splenic function, as measured by pitted red blood cell assays. No other studies of immune status after radiation therapy are available.
  • Functional asplenia (with Howell-Jolly bodies, reduced splenic size and blood flow) after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) has been attributed to graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).

Individuals with asplenia, regardless of the reason for the asplenic state, have an increased risk of fulminant bacteremia, especially associated with encapsulated bacteria, which is associated with a high mortality rate. The risk of bacteremia is higher in younger children than in older children, and this risk may be higher during the years immediately after splenectomy. Fulminant septicemia, however, has been reported in adults up to 25 years after splenectomy.

Bacteremia may be caused by the following organisms in asplenic survivors:

  • . The most common pathogen that causes bacteremia in children with asplenia.
  • Other .
  • type b (Hib).
  • .
  • ; .
  • Gram-negative bacilli, such as the species, the species, and .

Individuals with functional or surgical asplenia are also at increased risk of fatal malaria and severe babesiosis.

Posttherapy management

Clinicians should consider and encourage the administration of inactivated vaccines (e.g., influenza) and vaccines made of purified antigens (e.g., pneumococcus), bacterial components (e.g., diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis), or genetically engineered recombinant antigens (e.g., hepatitis B) in all cancer and transplant survivors according to recommended doses and schedules.

Two primary doses of quadrivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine should be administered 2 months apart to children with asplenia, from age 2 years through adolescence, and a booster dose should be administered every 5 years. (Refer to the Immunization Schedules for 2017 section of the Red Book for more information.) However, the efficacy of meningococcal vaccines in children with asplenia has not been established. (Refer to the Meningococcal Infections section of the Red Book for more information.) No known contraindication exists to giving these vaccines at the same time as other required vaccines, in separate syringes, at different sites.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV) are indicated at the recommended age for all children with asplenia. Following the administration of the appropriate number of doses of PCV13, PPSV23 should be administered starting at age 24 months. A second dose should be administered 5 years later. For children aged 2 to 5 years with a complete PCV7 series who have not received PCV13, a supplemental dose of PCV13 should be administered. For asplenic individuals aged 6 to 18 years who have not received a dose of PCV13, a supplemental dose of PCV13 should be considered. (Refer to the Pneumococcal Infections section of the Red Book for more information.) Hib immunization should be initiated at age 2 months, as recommended for otherwise healthy young children and for previously unimmunized children with asplenia. (Refer to the Immunization Schedules for 2017 section of the Red Book for more information.)

Daily antimicrobial prophylaxis against pneumococcal infections is recommended for young children with asplenia, regardless of their immunization status. Although the efficacy of daily antimicrobial prophylaxis has been proven only in patients with sickle cell anemia, this experience has been extended to other high-risk children, including asplenic children with a history of malignant neoplasms or thalassemia. In general, antimicrobial prophylaxis (in addition to immunization) should be considered for all children with asplenia younger than 5 years and for at least 1 year after splenectomy.

The age at which antimicrobial prophylaxis is discontinued is an empiric decision. On the basis of a multicenter study in sickle cell disease, prophylactic penicillin can be discontinued at age 5 years among those who are receiving regular medical attention and who have not had a severe pneumococcal infection or surgical splenectomy. The appropriate duration of prophylaxis is unknown for children with asplenia attributable to other causes. Some experts continue prophylaxis throughout childhood and into adulthood for particularly high-risk patients with asplenia.

Table 12 summarizes spleen late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information on posttransplant immunization.

Humoral Immunity

Although the immune system appears to recover from the effects of active chemotherapy and radiation therapy, there is some evidence that lymphoid subsets do not normalize in all survivors. Innate immunity, thymopoiesis, and DNA damage responses to radiation were shown to be abnormal in survivors of childhood leukemia. Defects in immune recovery characterized by B-cell depletion have been observed in 2-year survivors of standard-risk and intermediate-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Antibody levels to previous vaccinations are also reduced in patients off therapy for ALL for at least 1 year, suggesting abnormal humoral immunity and a need for revaccination in such children. Survivors of childhood cancer may remain susceptible to vaccine-preventable infections. Treatment intensity, age at diagnosis, and time from treatment are associated with the risk of losing pre-existing immunity.

While there is a paucity of data regarding the benefits of administering active immunizations in this population, reimmunization is necessary to provide protective antibodies. The recommended reimmunization schedule will depend on previously received vaccinations and on the intensity of therapy. In some children who received intensive treatment, consideration may be given to evaluating the antibodies against common vaccination antigens to determine the need for revaccination. (Refer to the Immunization Schedules for 2017 section of the Red Book for more information.)

Immune status is also compromised after HSCT, particularly in association with GVHD. In a prospective, longitudinal study of 210 survivors treated with allogeneic HSCT, antibody responses lasting for more than 5 years after immunization were observed in most patients for tetanus (95.7%), rubella (92.3%), poliovirus (97.9%), and, in diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) recipients, diphtheria (100%). However, responses to pertussis (25.0%), measles (66.7%), mumps (61.5%), hepatitis B (72.9%), and diphtheria in tetanus-diphtheria (Td) recipients (48.6%) were less favorable. Factors associated with vaccine failure include older age at immunization; lower CD3, CD4, or CD19 count; higher immunoglobulin M concentration; positive recipient cytomegalovirus serology; negative titer before immunization; history of acute or chronic GVHD; and radiation conditioning.

Follow-up recommendations for transplant recipients have been published by the major North American and European transplant groups, the CDC, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Refer to the for immune system late effects information including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Musculoskeletal System

The musculoskeletal system of growing children and adolescents is vulnerable to the cytotoxic effects of cancer therapies, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Documented late effects include the following:

  • Bone and joint (abnormal bone and/or muscle growth) problems.
  • Deformity and functional loss associated with amputation/limb-sparing surgery, joint contracture, osteoporosis/fractures, and osteonecrosis.
  • Changes in body composition (obesity and loss of lean muscle mass).

While these late effects are discussed individually, it is important to remember that the components of the musculoskeletal system are interrelated. For example, hypoplasia to a muscle group can negatively affect the function of the long bones and the resultant dysfunction can subsequently lead to disuse and osteoporosis.

The major strength of the published literature documenting musculoskeletal late effects among children and adolescents treated for cancer is that most studies have clearly defined outcomes and exposures. However, many studies are observational and cross-sectional or retrospective in design. Single-institution studies are common, and for some outcomes, only small convenience cohorts have been described. Thus, it is possible that studies either excluded patients with the most severe musculoskeletal effects because of death or inability to participate in follow-up testing, or oversampled those with the most severe musculoskeletal late effects because these patients were accessible as they returned for complication-related follow-up. Additionally, some of the results reported in adult survivors of childhood cancer may not be relevant to patients currently being treated because the delivery of anticancer modalities, particularly radiation therapy, has changed over the years in response to documented toxicities.

Abnormal Bone Growth

The effect of radiation on bone growth depends on the sites irradiated, as follows:

  • Head and brain.
  • Spine and long bones.

Radiation to the head and brain

In an age- and dose-dependent fashion, radiation can inhibit normal bone and muscle maturation and development. Radiation to the head (e.g., cranial, orbital, infratemporal, or nasopharyngeal radiation therapy) can cause craniofacial abnormalities, particularly in children treated before age 5 years who received radiation doses of 20 Gy or higher or who were treated with concomitant chemotherapy. Soft tissue sarcomas such as orbital rhabdomyosarcoma and retinoblastoma are two of the more common cancer types treated with these radiation fields. Often, in addition to the cosmetic impact of the craniofacial abnormalities, there can be related dental and sinus problems.

Cranial radiation therapy damages the hypothalamic-pituitary axis in an age- and dose-response fashion and can result in growth hormone deficiency. If the growth hormone deficiency is not treated during the growing years and, sometimes, even with appropriate treatment, it leads to a substantially lower final height. Patients with a central nervous system (CNS) tumor or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treated with 18 Gy or higher of cranial radiation therapy are at highest risk. Patients treated with total-body irradiation (TBI), particularly single-fraction TBI, and those treated with cranial radiation for non-CNS solid tumors are also at risk of growth hormone deficiency. If the spine is also irradiated (e.g., craniospinal radiation therapy for medulloblastoma or early ALL therapies in the 1960s), growth can be affected by two separate mechanisms—growth hormone deficiency and direct damage to the spine.

Radiation to the spine and long bones

Radiation therapy can also directly affect the growth of the spine and long bones (and associated muscle groups) and can cause premature closure of the epiphyses, leading to the following:

  • Short stature.
  • Asymmetric growth (scoliosis/kyphosis).
  • Limb-length discrepancy.

Orthovoltage radiation therapy, commonly used before 1970, delivered high doses of radiation to bone and was commonly associated with subsequent abnormalities in bone growth. However, even with contemporary radiation therapy, if a solid tumor is located near an epiphysis or the spine, alterations in normal bone development can be difficult to avoid.

The effects of radiation therapy administered to the spine on stature in survivors of Wilms tumor have been assessed.

Evidence (effect of radiation therapy on the spine and long bones):

Osteoporosis and Fractures

Although increased rates of fracture are not reported among long-term survivors of childhood cancer, maximal peak bone mass is an important factor influencing the risk of osteoporosis and fracture among older patients. Treatment-related factors that affect bone mineral loss include the following:

  • Chemotherapy. Methotrexate has a cytotoxic effect on osteoblasts, resulting in a reduction of bone volume and formation of new bone. This effect may be exacerbated by the chronic use of corticosteroids, another class of agents routinely used in the treatment of hematological malignancies and in supportive care for a variety of pediatric cancers.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation-related endocrinopathies, such as growth hormone deficiency or hypogonadism, may contribute to ongoing bone mineral loss.
  • Nutrition and activity. Suboptimal nutrition and physical inactivity may further predispose to deficits in bone mineral accretion.

Most of our knowledge about cancer and treatment effects on bone mineralization has been derived from studies of children with ALL. In this group, the leukemic process, and possibly vitamin D deficiency, may play a role in the alterations in bone metabolism and bone mass observed at diagnosis. Antileukemic therapy causes additional bone mineral density loss, which has been reported to normalize over time or to persist for many years after completion of therapy. Clinical factors predicting higher risk of low bone mineral density include treatment with the following:.

  • High cumulative doses of methotrexate (>40 g/m).
  • High cumulative doses of corticosteroids (>9 g/m).
  • Cranial radiation therapy or craniospinal radiation therapy.
  • More potent glucocorticoids such as dexamethasone.

The development of osteonecrosis during treatment for ALL also predicts higher risk of low bone density.

Clinical assessment of bone mineral density in adults treated for childhood ALL indicates that most bone mineral deficits normalize over time after discontinuing osteotoxic therapy.

Evidence (low bone mineral density):

Bone mineral density deficits that are likely multifactorial in etiology have been reported in allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) recipients conditioned with TBI. French investigators observed a significant risk of lower femoral bone mineral density among adult survivors of childhood leukemia treated with HSCT who had gonadal deficiency. Hormonal therapy has been shown to enhance the bone mineral density of adolescent girls diagnosed with hypogonadism after HSCT.

Despite disease-related and treatment-related risks of bone mineral density deficits, the prevalence of self-reported fractures among Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) participants was lower than that reported by sibling controls. Predictors of increased prevalence of fracture by multivariable analyses included the following:

  • Among female survivors, increasing age at follow-up, white race, methotrexate treatment, and balance difficulties.
  • Among male survivors, smoking history and white race.

Radiation-induced fractures can occur with doses of radiation of 50 Gy or higher, as is often used in the treatment of Ewing sarcoma of the extremity.


Osteonecrosis (also known as aseptic or avascular necrosis) is a rare, but well-recognized skeletal complication observed predominantly in survivors of pediatric hematological malignancies treated with corticosteroids. The prevalence of osteonecrosis has varied from 1% to 22% based on the study population, treatment protocol, method of evaluation, and time from treatment.

The condition is characterized by death of one or more segments of bone that most often affects weight-bearing joints, especially the hips and knees. Longitudinal cohort studies have identified a spectrum of clinical manifestations of osteonecrosis, ranging from asymptomatic, spontaneously-resolving imaging changes to painful progressive articular collapse requiring joint replacement. Symptomatic osteonecrosis characterized by pain, joint swelling, and reduced mobility typically presents during the first 2 years of therapy, particularly in patients with ALL. These symptoms may improve over time, persist, or progress in the years after completion of therapy. In one series, 60% of patients continued to have symptoms at a median follow-up of 4.9 years after diagnosis of osteonecrosis. Surgical procedures, including core decompression, osteotomy, and joint replacements, are sometimes performed in those with persistently severe symptoms.

Factors that increase the risk of osteonecrosis include the following:

  • Exposure to corticosteroids and, possibly, methotrexate and concurrent asparaginase. The most important treatment factor associated with the development of osteonecrosis is prolonged exposure to corticosteroids, which is typical in treatment regimens used for ALL, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and HSCT.

    Osteonecrosis risk may be related to type of corticosteroid, with some studies in patients with ALL indicating increased risk with the use of dexamethasone compared with prednisone.

    Corticosteroid dosing schedule also appears to impact the risk of developing osteonecrosis. In the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) 1961 trial for newly diagnosed high-risk ALL, patients were randomly assigned to receive either continuous (daily) dexamethasone or an alternate-week schedule of dexamethasone during the delayed intensification phase; the alternate-week schedule was associated with a lower incidence of osteonecrosis.

    In addition to corticosteroids, exposure to methotrexate and concurrent asparaginase may contribute to the development of osteonecrosis.

  • Development of thromboembolism during antileukemic therapy. In a retrospective review of 208 children treated for ALL, investigators at McMaster University reported a 5.21-fold (95% CI, 1.82–14.91) increased odds of osteonecrosis among children who experienced thromboembolism during antileukemic therapy than among those who did not have a thromboembolism, even after accounting for age and asparaginase exposure.
  • HSCT conditioning and course. In a large case-control study that evaluated risk factors for osteonecrosis using data from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research, lower risks of osteonecrosis were seen in patients with nonmalignant diseases and in those who had received reduced-intensity conditioning regimens for malignant diseases than were seen in patients receiving myeloablative regimens for malignant diseases. Several studies have reported an increased risk of osteonecrosis in association with chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
  • Age at time of diagnosis or transplant. Several studies have demonstrated that age at diagnosis (or at time of transplant) is a significant independent predictor of osteonecrosis. Osteonecrosis is significantly more common in older children and adolescents than in younger children. In the COG-1961 trial for high-risk ALL, the 5-year cumulative incidence of symptomatic osteonecrosis was 1.0% for patients aged 1 to 9 years, 9.9% for patients aged 10 to 15 years, and 20% for patients aged 16 to 21 years ( < .0001).
  • Race. Osteonecrosis also occurs more frequently in white patients than in black patients.
  • Genetic factors. Genetic factors influencing folate metabolism, glucocorticoid metabolism, and adipogenesis have been linked to excess risk of osteonecrosis among survivors.
    • Two candidate gene studies indicate that children homozygous for a 28–base pair repeat within the 5’ untranslated region of the gene are at increased risk of osteonecrosis. This gene is associated with folate production and replacement and is inhibited by methotrexate.
    • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital investigators observed an almost sixfold (odds ratio, 5.6; 95% confidence interval, 2.7–11.3) risk of osteonecrosis among survivors with polymorphism of the gene, which regulates lipid levels and osteoblast differentiation.
    • Genome-wide association studies have identified potential risk variants in , , (children younger than 10 years), and , which are all associated with glucocorticoid receptor activity.

Studies evaluating the influence of sex on the risk of osteonecrosis have yielded conflicting results, with some suggesting a higher incidence in females that has not been confirmed by others.


Osteochondromas are benign boney protrusions that can be spontaneous or associated with radiation therapy. They generally occur as a single lesion; however, multiple lesions may develop in the context of hereditary multiple osteochondromatosis. Approximately 5% of children undergoing myeloablative HSCT will develop osteochondroma, which most commonly presents in the metaphyseal regions of long bones.

Evidence (risk of osteochondroma):

Growth hormone therapy may influence the onset and pace of growth of osteochondromas.

Because malignant degeneration of these lesions is exceptionally rare, clinical rather than radiological follow-up is most appropriate. Surgical resection is only necessary when the lesion interferes with joint alignment and movement.

Amputation and Limb-Sparing Surgery

Amputation and limb-sparing surgery prevent local recurrence of bone tumors by removal of all gross and microscopic disease. If optimally executed, both procedures accomplish an excision of tumor with a margin of normal uninvolved tissue. The type of surgical procedure, the primary tumor site, and the age of the patient affect the risk of postsurgical complications. Complications in survivors treated with amputation include prosthetic fit problems, chronic pain in the residual limb, phantom limb pain, and bone overgrowth. While limb-sparing surgeries may offer a more aesthetically pleasing outcome, complications have been reported more frequently in survivors who underwent these procedures than in those treated with amputation. Complications after limb-sparing surgery include non-union, pathologic fracture, aseptic loosening, limb-length discrepancy, endoprosthetic fracture, and limited joint range of motion. Occasionally, refractory complications develop after limb-sparing surgery and require amputation.

A number of studies have compared functional outcomes after amputation and limb-sparing surgery, but results have been limited by inconsistent methods of functional assessment and small cohort sizes. Overall, data suggest that limb-sparing surgery results in better function than amputation, but differences are relatively modest. Similarly, long-term quality of life outcomes among survivors undergoing amputation and limb sparing procedures have not differed substantially. A longitudinal analysis of health status among extremity sarcoma survivors in the CCSS indicates an association between lower extremity amputation and increasing activity limitations with age, and an association between upper extremity amputation and lower educational attainment.

Joint Contractures

HSCT with any history of chronic GVHD is associated with joint contractures.

Table 13 summarizes bone and joint late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for musculoskeletal system late effects information, including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Reproductive System

Surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy that negatively affects any component of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis or gonads may compromise reproductive outcomes in childhood cancer survivors. Evidence for this outcome in childhood cancer survivors is limited by studies characterized by small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, cross-sectional assessment, heterogeneity in treatment approach, time since treatment, and method of ascertainment. In particular, the literature is deficient regarding hard outcomes of reproductive potential (e.g., semen analysis in men, primordial follicle count in women) and outcomes after contemporary risk-adapted treatment approaches.

The risk of infertility is generally related to the tissues or organs involved by the cancer and the specific type, dose, and combination of cytotoxic therapy.

  • Orchiectomy or oophorectomy performed for the management of pediatric germ cell tumors may reduce germ cell numbers.
  • Alkylating agents and similar DNA interstrand cross-linking agents used in the treatment of pediatric cancers are the primary chemotherapeutic agents associated with a high risk of infertility. Factors influencing the risk of gonadal injury in children treated with alkylating agent chemotherapy include the following:
    • Cumulative dose.
    • The specific alkylating agent.
    • The length of treatment.
    • Age at treatment.
    • Sex.
  • The risk of radiation injury to the hypothalamic-pituitary axis or gonads is related to the treatment volume, total dose, fractionation schedule, and age at treatment.

In addition to anticancer therapy, age at treatment, and sex, it is likely that genetic factors influence the risk of permanent infertility. It should be noted that pediatric cancer treatment protocols often prescribe combined-modality therapy; thus, the additive effects of gonadotoxic exposures may need to be considered in assessing reproductive potential. Detailed information about the specific cancer treatment modalities including specific surgical procedures, the type and cumulative doses of chemotherapeutic agents, and radiation treatment volumes and doses are needed to estimate risks for gonadal dysfunction and infertility.


Cancer treatments that may impair testicular and reproductive function include the following:

  • Surgery (orchiectomy, retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, extensive pelvic dissection).
  • Radiation therapy (exposing the hypothalamic-pituitary axis or testes).
  • Chemotherapy (alkylating agents and similar DNA interstrand cross-linking agents such as procarbazine).
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

Surgery affecting testicular function

Patients who undergo unilateral orchiectomy for testicular torsion may have subnormal sperm counts at long-term follow-up. Retrograde ejaculation is a frequent complication of bilateral retroperitoneal lymph node dissection performed on males with testicular neoplasms, and impotence may occur after extensive pelvic dissections to remove a rhabdomyosarcoma of the prostate.

Radiation affecting testicular function

Among men treated for childhood cancer, the potential for gonadal injury exists if radiation treatment fields include the pelvis, gonads, or total body. The germinal epithelium is more sensitive to radiation injury than are the androgen-producing Leydig cells. A decrease in sperm counts can be seen 3 to 6 weeks after such irradiation, and depending on the dosage, recovery may take 1 to 3 years. The germinal epithelium is damaged by much lower dosages (<1 Gy) of radiation than are Leydig cells (20–30 Gy). Irreversible germ cell failure may occur with fractionated radiation doses of greater than 2 Gy to 4 Gy. Administration of higher radiation doses, such as 24 Gy, which was used for the treatment of testicular relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), results in both germ cell failure and Leydig cell dysfunction.

Radiation injury to Leydig cells is related to the dose delivered and age at treatment. Testosterone production may be normal in prepubertal boys treated with less than 12 Gy fractionated testicular irradiation, but elevated plasma concentrations of luteinizing hormone observed in this group suggest subclinical injury. Gonadal failure typically results when prepubertal boys are treated with more than 20 Gy of radiation to the testes; androgen therapy is required for masculinization. Leydig cell function is usually preserved in sexually mature male patients if radiation doses do not exceed 30 Gy. Although available data suggest that Leydig cells are more vulnerable when exposed to radiation before puberty, confounding factors, such as the age at testing and the effects of both orchiectomy and chemotherapy, limit the reliability of this observation.

Chemotherapy affecting testicular function

Cumulative alkylating agent (e.g., cyclophosphamide, mechlorethamine, dacarbazine) dose is an important factor in estimating the risk of testicular germ cell injury, but limited data are available that correlate results of semen analyses in clinically well-characterized cohorts. In general, Leydig cell function is preserved, but germ cell failure is common in men treated with high cumulative doses of cyclophosphamide (7,500 mg/m or more) and more than 3 months of combination alkylating agent therapy. Most studies suggest that prepubertal males are not at lower risk for chemotherapy-induced testicular damage than are postpubertal patients.

Studies of testicular germ cell injury, as evidenced by oligospermia or azoospermia, after alkylating agent administration with or without radiation therapy, have reported the following:

  • Cyclophosphamide:
    • Male survivors of non-Hodgkin lymphoma who received a cumulative cyclophosphamide dose of greater than 9.5 g/m and underwent pelvic radiation therapy were at increased risk for failure to recover spermatogenesis.
    • In survivors of Ewing sarcoma and soft tissue sarcoma, treatment with a cumulative cyclophosphamide dose of greater than 7.5 g/m was correlated with persistent oligospermia or azoospermia.
    • Cyclophosphamide doses exceeding 7.5 g/m and ifosfamide doses exceeding 60 g/m produced oligospermia or azoospermia in most exposed individuals.
    • A small cohort study reported normal semen quality in adult long-term survivors of childhood ALL treated with 0 to 10 g/m of cyclophosphamide and cranial irradiation, whereas no spermatozoa were detected in semen samples from survivors treated with more than 20 g/m of cyclophosphamide.
    • Treatment with a cyclophosphamide equivalent dose of less than 4 g/m results in infrequent azoospermia or oligospermia, with 88.6% of 31 men treated being normospermic.
    • Spermatogenesis was present in 67% of 15 men who received 200 mg/kg of cyclophosphamide before undergoing HSCT for aplastic anemia.
  • Dacarbazine:
    • The combination of doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine (ABVD) produced oligospermia or azoospermia in adults frequently during the course of treatment. However, recovery of spermatogenesis occurred after treatment was completed, in contrast to the experience reported after treatment with mechlorethamine, vincristine, procarbazine, and prednisone (MOPP).
  • Alkylating agent plus procarbazine:
    • Most studies suggest that combination chemotherapy with an alkylating agent and procarbazine causes severe damage to the testicular germinal epithelium that is irreversible at high cumulative doses.
    • Azoospermia occurred less frequently in adults after treatment with two, rather than six, cycles of MOPP.
    • Elevation of the basal follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) level, which may reflect impaired spermatogenesis, was less frequent among patients receiving two courses of vincristine, procarbazine, prednisone, and doxorubicin (OPPA) than among those who received two courses of OPPA in combination with two or more courses of cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine and prednisone (COPP).

Testicular function after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT)

The risk of gonadal dysfunction and infertility related to conditioning with total-body irradiation (TBI), high-dose alkylating agent chemotherapy, or both is substantial. Because transplantation is often undertaken for relapsed or refractory cancer, previous treatment with alkylating agent chemotherapy or hypothalamic-pituitary axis or gonadal radiation therapy may confer additional risks. Age at treatment also influences the risk of gonadal injury. Young boys and adolescents treated with high-dose cyclophosphamide (200 mg/kg) will generally maintain Leydig cell function and testosterone production, but germ cell failure is common. After TBI conditioning, most male patients retain their ability to produce testosterone but will experience germ cell failure.

Limited data suggest that a greater proportion of boys will retain germinal function or recovery of spermatogenesis (based on pubertal progress and gonadotropin levels) after reduced-intensity conditioning with fludarabine/melphalan than will those treated with myeloablative conditioning with busulfan/cyclophosphamide.

Recovery of gonadal function

Recovery of gonadal function after cytotoxic chemotherapy and radiation therapy is possible. Dutch investigators used inhibin B as a surrogate marker of gonadal function in a cross-sectional, retrospective study of 201 male survivors of childhood cancer, with a median follow-up of 15.7 years (range, 3–37 years) from diagnosis. The median inhibin B level among the cohort increased based on serial measurements performed over a median of 3.3 years (range, 0.7–11.3 years). The probability of recovery of the serum inhibin B level was significantly influenced by baseline inhibin B level, but not age at diagnosis, age at study evaluation, interval between discontinuation of treatment and study evaluation, gonadal irradiation, and alkylating agent dose score. These results suggest that recovery can occur but not if inhibin B is already at a critically low level.

Inhibin B and FSH levels are correlated with sperm concentration and often used to estimate the presence of spermatogenesis; however, limitations in the specificity and positive predictive value of these tests have been reported. Hence, male survivors should be advised that semen analysis is the most accurate assessment of adequacy of spermatogenesis.


Cancer treatments that may impair ovarian function/reserve include the following:

  • Surgery (oophorectomy).
  • Radiation therapy (exposing the hypothalamic-pituitary axis or ovaries).
  • Chemotherapy (alkylating agents, similar DNA interstrand cross-linking agents like procarbazine).
  • HSCT.

Surgery affecting ovarian function

Oophorectomy performed for the management of germ cell tumors may reduce ovarian reserve. Contemporary treatments utilize fertility-sparing surgical procedures combined with systemic chemotherapy to reduce this risk.

Radiation affecting ovarian function

In women treated for childhood cancer, the potential for primary gonadal injury exists if treatment fields involve the lumbosacral spine, abdomen, pelvis, or total body. The frequency of ovarian failure after abdominal radiation therapy is related to both the age of the woman at the time of irradiation and the radiation therapy dose received by the ovaries. The ovaries of younger individuals are more resistant to radiation damage than are those of older women because of their greater complement of primordial follicles.

Whole-abdomen irradiation at doses of 20 Gy or greater is associated with the highest risk of ovarian dysfunction. Seventy-one percent of women in one series failed to enter puberty, and 26% had premature menopause after receiving whole-abdominal radiation therapy doses of 20 Gy to 30 Gy. Other studies reported similar results in women treated with whole-abdomen irradiation or craniospinal irradiation during childhood.

Chemotherapy affecting ovarian function

Ovarian function may be impaired after treatment with combination chemotherapy that includes an alkylating agent and procarbazine. In general, girls maintain gonadal function at higher cumulative alkylating agent doses than do boys. Most female childhood cancer survivors who are treated with risk-adapted combination chemotherapy retain or recover ovarian function. However, the risk of acute ovarian failure and premature menopause is substantial if treatment includes combined-modality therapy with alkylating agent chemotherapy and abdominal or pelvic radiation therapy or dose-intensive alkylating agents for myeloablative conditioning before HSCT.

Premature ovarian failure

Premature ovarian failure is well documented in childhood cancer survivors, especially in women treated with both an alkylating agent and abdominal radiation therapy. Studies have associated the following factors with an increased rate of premature ovarian failure (acute ovarian failure and premature menopause):

  • Age at the time of treatment and attained age.
  • Increasing doses of abdominal-pelvic radiation therapy.
  • Exposure to alkylating agents and/or procarbazine.
  • Oophorectomy.

The presence of apparently normal ovarian function at the completion of chemotherapy should not be interpreted as evidence that no ovarian injury has occurred.

Evidence (acute ovarian failure and premature menopause in childhood cancer survivors):

Ovarian function after HSCT

The preservation of ovarian function among women treated with HSCT is related to age at treatment, receipt of pretransplant alkylating agent chemotherapy and abdominal-pelvic radiation therapy, and transplant conditioning regimen.

Evidence (ovarian function among women treated with HSCT):


Infertility remains one of the most common life-altering treatment effects experienced by long-term childhood survivors. Pediatric cancer cohort studies have demonstrated the impact of cytotoxic therapy on reproductive outcomes. CCSS investigations have elucidated factors contributing to subfertility among childhood cancer survivors.

Fertility was evaluated in 10,938 CCSS participants (5,640 males, 5,298 females) and 3,949 siblings.

  • At a median follow-up of 8 years from cohort entry, 38% of survivors reported having or siring a pregnancy, resulting in at least one live birth in 83% of those survivors. Among siblings monitored for a median of 10 years, 62% reported having or siring a pregnancy, resulting in at least one live birth in 90% of those siblings. Multivariable analysis confirmed that survivors had significantly decreased likelihood of siring or having a pregnancy (hazard ratio [HR], 0.63 in males and 0.87 in females) or of having a live birth (HR, 0.63 in males and 0.82 in females) than did siblings.
  • Greater doses of alkylating drugs (HR, 0.82 per 5,000 mg/m increments) and cisplatin reduced the likelihood of siring pregnancy among male survivors, but only busulfan and higher doses (>411 mg/m) of lomustine significantly reduced pregnancy among females. Reassuringly, the risk of reduced likelihood of pregnancy in women was observed only at the highest cyclophosphamide equivalent dose (HR, 0.85 for upper quartile [≥11,295 mg/m] vs. no exposure).
  • HRs (95% CIs) for the likelihood of reporting first pregnancy by cyclophosphamide equivalent dose for male and female survivors are summarized in Table 14:
  • Similar relationships were observed for live birth outcomes.

Fertility may be impaired by factors other than the absence of sperm and ova. Conception requires delivery of sperm to the uterine cervix, patency of the fallopian tubes for fertilization to occur, and appropriate conditions in the uterus for implantation.

  • Retrograde ejaculation occurs with a significant frequency in men who undergo bilateral retroperitoneal lymph node dissection.
  • Uterine structure may be affected by abdominal irradiation. A study demonstrated that uterine length was significantly shorter in ten women with ovarian failure who had been treated with whole-abdomen irradiation. Endometrial thickness did not increase in response to hormone replacement therapy in three women who underwent weekly ultrasound examination. No flow was detectable with Doppler ultrasound through either uterine artery of five women, and through one uterine artery in three additional women.


For survivors who maintain fertility, numerous investigations have evaluated the prevalence of and risk factors for pregnancy complications in adults treated for cancer during childhood. Pregnancy complications including hypertension, fetal malposition, fetal loss/spontaneous abortion, preterm labor, and low birth weight have been observed in association with specific diagnostic and treatment groups.

Evidence (pregnancy complications in adults treated for childhood cancer):

Fertility preservation

Progress in reproductive endocrinology has resulted in the availability of several options for preserving or permitting fertility in patients about to receive potentially toxic chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For males, cryopreservation of spermatozoa before treatment is an effective method to circumvent the sterilizing effect of therapy. Although pretreatment semen quality in patients with cancer has been shown to be less than that noted in healthy donors, the percentage decline in semen quality and the effect of cryodamage to spermatozoa from patients with cancer is similar to that of normal donors. For those unable to bank sperm, newer technologies such as testicular sperm extraction may be an option. Further micromanipulative technologic advances such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection and similar techniques may be able to render sperm extracted surgically, or even poor-quality cryopreserved spermatozoa from cancer patients, capable of successful fertilization.

For females, the most successful assisted-reproductive techniques depend on harvesting and banking the postpubertal patient’s oocytes and cryopreserving unfertilized oocytes or embryos before gonadotoxic therapy. Options for prepubertal patients are limited to investigational ovarian tissue cryopreservation for later autotransplantation, which may be offered to girls with nonovarian, nonhematologic cancers.

Offspring of childhood cancer survivors

For childhood cancer survivors who have offspring, there is concern about congenital anomalies, genetic disease, or risk of cancer in the offspring. Children of cancer survivors are not at significantly increased risk for congenital anomalies stemming from their parents' exposure to mutagenic cancer treatments.

Evidence (children of cancer survivors not at significantly increased risk of congenital anomalies):

Table 15 summarizes reproductive late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for reproductive late effects information including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Respiratory System

Respiratory function may be compromised in long-term survivors of childhood cancer who were treated with the following therapies:

  • Specific chemotherapeutic agents.
  • Thoracic radiation therapy.
  • Pulmonary/chest wall surgery.
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

The effects of early lung injury from cancer treatment may be exacerbated by the decline in lung function associated with normal aging, other comorbid chronic health conditions, or smoking. The quality of current evidence regarding this outcome is limited by retrospective data collection, small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, description of outcomes following antiquated treatment approaches, and variability in time since treatment and method of ascertainment. No large cohort studies have been performed that include clinical evaluations coupled with functional and quality-of-life assessments.

The true prevalence or incidence of pulmonary dysfunction in childhood cancer survivors is not clear. For children treated with HSCT, significant clinical disease has been observed.

Evidence (selected cohort studies describing long-term pulmonary function outcomes):

Respiratory complications after radiation therapy

Radiation therapy that exposes the lung parenchyma can result in pulmonary dysfunction related to reduced lung volume, impaired dynamic compliance, and deformity of both the lung and chest wall. The potential for chronic pulmonary sequelae is related to the radiation dose administered, the volume of lung irradiated, and the fractional radiation therapy doses. Combined-modality therapy including radiation therapy and pulmonary toxic chemotherapy or thoracic/chest wall surgery increases the risk of pulmonary function impairment.

Chronic pulmonary complications reported after treatment for pediatric malignancies include restrictive or obstructive chronic pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and spontaneous pneumothorax. These sequelae are uncommon after contemporary therapy, which most often results in subclinical injury that is detected only by imaging or formal pulmonary function testing.

Evidence (selected cohort studies describing pulmonary outcomes):

Respiratory complications after chemotherapy

Chemotherapy agents with potential pulmonary toxic effects commonly used in the treatment of pediatric malignancies include bleomycin, busulfan, and the nitrosoureas (carmustine and lomustine). These agents induce lung damage on their own or potentiate the damaging effects of radiation to the lung. Combined-modality therapy including pulmonary toxic chemotherapy and thoracic radiation therapy or thoracic/chest wall surgery increases the risk of pulmonary function impairment.

Evidence (outcomes among cohorts treated with pulmonary toxic chemotherapy):

Respiratory complications associated with HSCT

Patients undergoing HSCT are at increased risk of pulmonary toxic effects related to the following:

  • Preexisting pulmonary dysfunction (e.g., asthma, pretransplant therapy).
  • Conditioning regimens, including cyclophosphamide, busulfan, or carmustine.
  • Total-body irradiation.
  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).

Although most survivors of transplant are not clinically compromised, restrictive lung disease may occur and has been reported to increase in prevalence with increasing time from HSCT, based on limited data from longitudinally followed cohorts. Obstructive disease is less common, as is late onset pulmonary syndrome, which includes the spectrum of restrictive and obstructive disease. Bronchiolitis obliterans with or without organizing pneumonia, diffuse alveolar damage, and interstitial pneumonia may occur as a component of this syndrome, generally between 6 and 12 months posttransplant. Cough, dyspnea, or wheezing may occur with either normal chest x-ray or diffuse/patchy infiltrates; however, most patients are symptom free.

Other factors associated with respiratory late effects

Additional factors contributing to chronic pulmonary toxic effects include superimposed infection, underlying pneumonopathy (e.g., asthma), chest wall abnormalities, respiratory toxic effects, chronic GVHD, and the effects of chronic pulmonary involvement by tumor or reaction to tumor. Lung lobectomy during childhood appears to have no significant impact on long-term pulmonary function, but the long-term effect of lung surgery for children with cancer is not well defined.

Pulmonary complications may also be exacerbated by smoking cigarettes or other substances. While smoking rates in survivors of childhood cancer tend to be lower than the general population, it is still important to prevent initiation of smoking and promote cessation in this distinct population.

Evidence (pulmonary dysfunction in former or current smokers):

Table 16 summarizes respiratory late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for respiratory late effects information including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Special Senses


Hearing loss as a late effect of therapy can occur after exposure to platinum compounds (cisplatin and carboplatin), cranial radiation therapy, or both. These therapeutic exposures are most common in the treatment of central nervous system (CNS) and non-CNS solid tumors. Children are more susceptible to otologic toxic effects from platinum agents than are adults. A report from the Swiss Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS) (N = 2,061) estimated the prevalence of hearing loss in survivors at 10%, compared with 3% in siblings. Hearing loss was most common in survivors of CNS tumors (25%), neuroblastoma (23%), hepatic tumor (21%), germ cell tumor (20%), bone tumor (16%), and soft tissue sarcoma (16%). Data from the Swiss CCSS indicate that the relative rate of first occurrence of auditory complications (problems hearing sounds, tinnitus, hearing loss, deafness) is greatest in the time period from diagnosis to 5 years postdiagnosis; however, during the period of 5 or more years postdiagnosis, the risk of developing such conditions for survivors remained significantly higher than for siblings.

Risk factors associated with hearing loss include the following:

  • Younger age at treatment.
  • Higher cumulative dose of platinum-based chemotherapy (≥300 mg/m).
  • Exposure to cisplatin combined with carboplatin.
  • CNS tumors.
  • Cranial radiation therapy.
  • Neurosurgery.

Hearing loss and platinum-based therapy

Platinum-related sensorineural hearing loss develops as an acute toxicity that is generally irreversible and bilateral. Hearing loss manifests initially in the high frequencies and progresses to the speech frequencies with increasing cumulative exposure. The prevalence of hearing loss has varied widely per series and is based on platinum treatment (e.g., platinum type, dose, infusion duration); host factors (e.g., age, genetic susceptibility, renal function); receipt of additional ototoxic therapy (cranial radiation therapy, aminoglycosides, loop diuretics), and the grading criteria used to report prevalence and severity of hearing loss.

  • Cisplatin-induced hearing loss involving the speech frequencies (500–2000 Hz) usually occurs with cumulative doses that exceed 400 mg/m in pediatric patients. Prolonging the duration of infusion or splitting the dose has been reported to reduce the risk of significant hearing loss. Exposure to cisplatin combined with myeloablative carboplatin significantly increases the risk of severe hearing loss. Otologic toxic effects after platinum chemotherapy have been reported to worsen years after completion of therapy.

    Radiation therapy to the posterior fossa inclusive of the eighth cranial nerve (suggestive of damage to the cochlea at the end of therapy) increases the risk of late-onset hearing loss in survivors treated with cisplatin.

  • Carboplatin used in conventional (nonmyeloablative) dosing is typically not ototoxic. However, delayed-onset hearing loss has been reported in the following populations:
    • In a cross-sectional, multicenter analysis that included 451 Dutch childhood cancer survivors who received platinum agents but not cranial radiation therapy, the incidence of ototoxicity (defined as Münster grade >2b [>20 dB at ≥4–8kHz]) associated with the use of carboplatin given alone (n = 112) was 17%.
    • A single study of otologic toxic effects after non–stem cell transplant dosing of carboplatin for retinoblastoma reported that 8 of 175 children developed hearing loss. For seven of the eight children, the onset of the otologic toxic effects was delayed a median of 3.7 years.
    • Another study that evaluated audiological outcomes among 60 retinoblastoma survivors treated with nonmyeloablative systemic carboplatin and vincristine estimated a cumulative incidence of hearing loss of 20.3% at 10 years. Among the ten patients (17%) who developed sustained grade 3 or grade 4 hearing loss, nine were younger than 6 months at the start of chemotherapy. Younger age at the start of treatment was the only significant predictor of hearing loss; the cumulative incidence of hearing loss was 39% for patients younger than 6 months versus only 8.3% for patients aged 6 months and older.
  • The use of a carboplatin conditioning regimen for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, particularly in combination with previous carboplatin or cisplatin therapy, may cause significant otologic toxic effects.

Hearing loss and cranial radiation therapy

Cranial radiation therapy, when used as a single modality, may result in otologic toxic effects that may be gradual in onset, manifesting months to years after exposure. The for auditory toxicity after radiation therapy alone is in the range of 35 to 45 Gy for children. High-frequency sensorineural hearing loss is uncommon at cumulative radiation doses below 35 Gy, and is rarely severe below doses of 45 Gy. The exception is for patients with supratentorial tumors and ventriculoperitoneal shunts, in whom doses below 30 Gy may be associated with intermediate frequency (1,000–2,000 Hz) hearing loss. To reduce the risk of hearing loss, the average cochlear dose should not exceed 30 to 35 Gy, delivered over 6 weeks. Young patient age and presence of a brain tumor and/or hydrocephalus can increase susceptibility to hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss after cranial radiation therapy can progress over time. In a study of 235 pediatric brain tumor patients treated with conformal or intensity-modulated radiation therapy (without cisplatin or pre-existing hearing loss) and monitored for a median of 9 years, sensorineural hearing loss was prevalent in 14% of patients, with a median time to onset of 3.6 years from radiation therapy. Follow-up evaluations among 29 patients identified continued decline in hearing sensitivity. Risk factors for cranial radiation–associated sensorineural hearing loss included younger age at initiation of radiation, higher cochlear radiation dose, and cerebrospinal fluid shunting.

When used concomitantly with cisplatin, radiation therapy can substantially exacerbate the hearing loss associated with platinum chemotherapy. In a report from the CCSS, 5-year survivors were at increased risk of problems with hearing sounds (relative risk [RR], 2.3), tinnitus (RR, 1.7), hearing loss requiring an aid (RR, 4.4), and hearing loss in one or both ears not corrected by a hearing aid (RR, 5.2), compared with siblings. Temporal lobe irradiation (>30 Gy) and posterior fossa irradiation (>50 Gy but also 30–49.9 Gy) were associated with these adverse outcomes. Exposure to platinum was associated with an increased risk of problems with hearing sounds (RR, 2.1), tinnitus (RR, 2.8), and hearing loss requiring an aid (RR, 4.1).

Hearing loss and quality of life

Importantly, children treated for malignancies may be at risk of early- or delayed-onset hearing loss that can affect learning, communication, school performance, social interaction, and overall quality of life.

  • Among 137 child survivors of neuroblastoma (aged 8–17 years), hearing loss was associated with problems with reading and math skills, as well as higher risk of learning disability and/or special education needs. In addition, hearing loss was associated with poorer school-related quality of life.
  • In a study of adult survivors of pediatric CNS tumors (n = 180) and non-CNS solid tumors (n = 226) who were treated with potentially ototoxic cancer therapy, serious hearing loss (requiring aid or resulting in deafness) was associated with a twofold increased risk of nonindependent living and unemployment or not graduating from high school.

The Children’s Oncology Group has published recommendations for the evaluation and management of hearing loss in survivors of childhood and adolescent cancers to promote early identification of at-risk survivors and timely referral for remedial services.

Table 17 summarizes auditory late effects and the related health screenings.

Orbital and Optic

Orbital complications are common after radiation therapy for retinoblastoma and after total-body irradiation (TBI) and in children with head and neck sarcomas and CNS tumors.


For survivors of retinoblastoma, a small orbital volume may result from either enucleation or radiation therapy. Age younger than 1 year may increase risk, but this finding is not consistent across studies. Progress has been made in the management of retinoblastoma, with better enucleation implants, intravenous chemoreduction, and intra-arterial chemotherapy in addition to thermotherapy, cryotherapy, and plaque radiation therapy. Longer follow-up is needed to assess the impact on vision in patients undergoing these more contemporary treatment modalities. Previously, tumors located near the macula and fovea were associated with an increased risk of complications leading to vision loss, although treatment of these tumors with foveal laser ablation has shown promise in preserving vision.

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Retinoblastoma Treatment for more information on the treatment of retinoblastoma.)


Survivors of orbital rhabdomyosarcoma are at risk of dry eye, cataract, orbital hypoplasia, ptosis, retinopathy, keratoconjunctivitis, optic neuropathy, lid epithelioma, and impairment of vision after radiation therapy doses of 30 Gy to 65 Gy. The higher dose ranges (>50 Gy) are associated with lid epitheliomas, keratoconjunctivitis, lacrimal duct atrophy, and severe dry eye. Retinitis and optic neuropathy may also result from doses of 50 Gy to 65 Gy and even at lower total doses if the individual fraction size is higher than 2 Gy. Cataracts are reported after lower doses of 10 Gy to 18 Gy.

(Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Rhabdomyosarcoma Treatment for more information on the treatment of rhabdomyosarcoma in children.)

Low-grade optic pathway glioma and craniopharyngioma

Survivors of optic pathway glioma and craniopharyngioma are also at risk of visual complications, resulting in part from tumor proximity to the optic nerve.

Longitudinal follow-up (mean, 9 years) of 21 patients with optic pathway gliomas indicated that before treatment, 81% of patients had reduced visual acuity, 81% had optic nerve pallor, and all had reduced visual evoked potentials in one or both eyes. Treatment arrested acuity loss for 4 to 5 years. Visual acuity was stable or improved in 33% of patients at last follow-up; however, it declined on average. Visual acuity at follow-up was related to tumor volume at initial presentation.

In a study of 25 patients diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, 67% had visual complications at a mean follow-up of 11 years. A retrospective review of 30 children with craniopharyngioma revealed that 19 patients had vision loss before surgery; 21 patients had postsurgical vision loss. Preoperative vision loss was predicative of postoperative vision loss.

CCSS investigators evaluated the impact of impaired vision on cognitive and psychosocial outcomes among 1,233 adult survivors of childhood low-grade gliomas. Some degree of visual impairment was prevalent in 22.5% of patients, and 3.8% of patients were blind in both eyes. Survivors who were blind in both eyes were more likely to be unmarried, live dependently, and be unemployed than were survivors with unimpaired vision. However, bilateral blindness did not impact self-reported cognitive or emotional outcomes. Impaired (with some remaining) vision was not associated with psychological or economic outcomes.

Treatment-specific effects

Survivors of childhood cancer are at increased risk for ocular late effects related to both glucocorticoid and radiation exposure to the eye.

Evidence (ocular effects of radiation exposure):

Ocular complications, such as cataracts and dry eye syndrome, are common after stem cell transplantation in childhood.

Evidence (ocular effects of stem cell transplantation):

Table 18 summarizes ocular late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for information on the late effects of special senses, including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Late Effects of the Urinary System

Acute toxicity of the urinary system from cancer therapy is well known. Less is known about the genitourinary outcomes in long-term survivors. The evidence for long-term renal injury in childhood cancer survivors is limited by studies characterized by small sample size, cohort selection and participation bias, cross-sectional assessment, heterogeneity in time since treatment, and method of ascertainment. In particular, the inaccuracies of diagnosing chronic kidney dysfunction by estimating equations of glomerular dysfunction should be considered. Cancer treatments predisposing to renal injury and/or high blood pressure later in life include the following:

  • Chemotherapeutic drugs (cisplatin, carboplatin, ifosfamide, methotrexate).
  • Renal radiation therapy.
  • Nephrectomy.

The risk and degree of renal dysfunction depend on type and intensity of therapy, and the interpretation of the studies is compromised by variability in testing.

Few large-scale studies have evaluated late renal-health outcomes and risk factors for renal dysfunction among survivors treated with potentially nephrotoxic modalities.

Evidence (renal dysfunction in childhood cancer survivors):

Therapy-related factors affecting the kidney

Cancer treatments predisposing to late renal injury and hypertension include the following:

  • Nephrectomy. Survivors of childhood cancer who have undergone nephrectomy are at risk of hyperfiltration injury. Compensatory hypertrophy of the remaining kidney typically occurs after nephrectomy, but over time, renal injury may manifest as reduced glomerular filtration, microalbuminuria and proteinuria, hypertension, and, rarely, focal glomerulosclerosis leading to chronic renal failure.

    In a cross-sectional study of 1,442 5-year childhood cancer survivors (median 12.1 years from diagnosis), 28.1% of all survivors had at least one renal adverse effect, with hypertension (14.8%) and albuminuria (14.5%) being the most prevalent. Survivors who had undergone nephrectomy had the highest risk of diminished renal function (OR, 8.6; 95% CI, 3.4–21.4). However, patients with nonsyndromic unilateral Wilms tumor treated with unilateral radical nephrectomy without nephrotoxic chemotherapy or ionizing radiation therapy appear to be at low risk of developing significant long-term renal dysfunction.

  • Chemotherapy.
    • Cisplatin. Cisplatin can cause glomerular and tubular damage resulting in a diminished GFR and electrolyte wasting (particularly magnesium, calcium, and potassium).

      Acute cisplatin-related nephrotoxicity has been reported in 30% to 100% of exposed children. However, the prevalence of persistent renal dysfunction in long-term survivors appears to be considerably lower.

      Among 63 children treated with platinum agents, GFR was less than 60 mL/min per 1.73 m in 11% of children and hypomagnesemia requiring oral supplements occurred in 7% of children at 10 years from completion of therapy. Among 651 sarcoma patients evaluated after cessation of antineoplastic therapy (median follow-up, 2 years), hypomagnesemia occurred in 12.1% of patients after cisplatin therapy and in 15.6% after carboplatin therapy, compared with 4.5% who did not receive any platinum derivatives. In all groups, the frequency of hypomagnesemia decreased with ongoing follow-up, but serum magnesium remained lower in platinum-treated patients throughout the study period.

    • Carboplatin. Carboplatin is a cisplatin analog and is less nephrotoxic than cisplatin. In a prospective, longitudinal, single-center, cohort study of children monitored for more than 10 years after cisplatin or carboplatin therapy, older age at treatment was found to be the major risk factor for nephrotoxicity, especially for patients receiving carboplatin, while cisplatin dose schedule and cumulative carboplatin dose were also important predictors of toxicity. Platinum nephrotoxicity did not change significantly over 10 years.

      The combination of carboplatin and ifosfamide may be associated with more renal damage than the combination of cisplatin and ifosfamide.

      Additional follow-up in larger numbers of survivors treated with carboplatin (without other nephrotoxic agents and modalities) must be evaluated before potential renal toxicity can be better defined.

    • Ifosfamide. Ifosfamide can also cause glomerular and tubular toxicity, with renal tubular acidosis and Fanconi syndrome, a proximal tubular defect characterized by impairment of resorption of glucose, amino acids, phosphate, and bicarbonate. Ifosfamide doses greater than 60 g/m, age younger than 5 years at treatment, and combination with cisplatin and carboplatin increase the risk of ifosfamide-associated renal tubular toxicity.

      A French study that evaluated the prevalence of late renal toxicity after ifosfamide reported normal tubular function in 90% of pediatric cancer survivors (median follow-up, 10 years); 79% of the cancer survivors had normal GFR, and all survivors had normal serum bicarbonate and calcium. Hypomagnesemia and hypophosphatemia were seen in 1% of cancer survivors. Glycosuria was detected in 37% of cancer survivors but was mild in 95% of cases. Proteinuria was observed in 12% of cancer survivors. In multivariate analysis, ifosfamide dose and interval from therapy were predictors of tubulopathy, and older age at diagnosis and interval from therapy were predictors of abnormal GFR.

    • High-dose methotrexate. High-dose methotrexate (1,000–33,000 mg/m) has been reported to cause acute renal dysfunction in up to 12.4% of patients. Long-term renal sequelae have not been described.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to the kidney can result in radiation nephritis or nephropathy after a latent period of 3 to 12 months. The kidney is relatively radiosensitive, with a tolerance dose of 20 Gy. Doses of 18 Gy are considered unlikely to cause severe or chronic renal sequelae. In contrast, up to 50% of individuals treated with 20 Gy may develop glomerular dysfunction or hypertension within 20 years.

    Specific quantitative data are sparse, but a study of 108 children treated for Wilms tumor who had undergone unilateral nephrectomy showed that 41% of children who received less than 12 Gy of radiation to the contralateral remaining kidney, 56% of children who received 12 Gy to 24 Gy, and 91% of children who received more than 24 Gy had a decreased creatinine clearance (GFR <63 mL/min/m).

    In a report from the German Registry for the Evaluation of Side Effects after Radiation in Childhood and Adolescence (RISK consortium), 126 patients who underwent radiation therapy to parts of the kidneys for various cancers were evaluated. All patients had also received potentially nephrotoxic chemotherapy. Whole-kidney volumes exposed to greater than 20 Gy ( = .031) or 30 Gy ( = .003) of radiation were associated with a greater risk of nephrotoxicity.

    Risk factors for radiation nephritis include the following:

    • Age at time of radiation therapy. Neonates appear to have an increased sensitivity to radiation therapy; doses of 12 Gy to 24 Gy at 1.25 Gy to 1.5 Gy per fraction to the entire kidney were associated with a decreased GFR. However, for older children, there is no convincing evidence that age at the time of radiation therapy is related to renal injury.
    • Unilateral versus bilateral radiation therapy. In the National Wilms Tumor Study experience, renal failure was more common in children with bilateral tumors than in children with unilateral tumors. The effects of radiation also depend on whether partial or whole-kidney radiation therapy is administered. Renal failure is rare after the administration of partial-volume radiation doses between 12 Gy and 27 Gy. When certain agents such as cyclosporine and teniposide are not used, total-body irradiation doses of up to 13 Gy are associated with a less than 8% incidence of kidney toxicity.
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Chronic kidney disease is a long-term complication of HSCT that has been variably associated with acute kidney injury, lower pretransplant renal function, TBI, conditioning regimens such as fludarabine, graft-versus-host disease, and use of calcineurin inhibitors.

    Most reports of renal outcomes among long-term survivors of childhood cancer treated with HSCT are limited to descriptive outcomes of very small cohorts.

    Refer to the Urinary System Late Effects section of the Childhood Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation summary for more information.

Genetic factors predisposing to renal dysfunction

Many childhood survivors of Wilms tumor who develop chronic renal failure have syndromes accompanying mutations or deletions that predispose to renal disease. Data from the National Wilms Tumor Study Group and the U.S. Renal Data System indicate that the 20-year cumulative incidence of end-stage renal disease in children with unilateral Wilms tumor and Denys-Drash syndrome is 74%, 36% for those with WAGR (Wilms tumor, aniridia, genitourinary abnormalities, mental retardation) syndrome, 7% for male patients with genitourinary anomalies, and 0.6% for patients with none of these conditions. For patients with bilateral Wilms tumors, the incidence of end-stage renal disease is 50% for Denys-Drash syndrome, 90% for WAGR, 25% for genitourinary anomaly, and 12% for others. End-stage renal disease in patients with WAGR and genitourinary anomalies tended to occur relatively late, and often during or after adolescence.

Therapy-related bladder complications

Pelvic or central nervous system surgery, alkylator-containing chemotherapy such as cyclophosphamide or ifosfamide, pelvic radiation therapy, and certain spinal and genitourinary surgical procedures have been associated with urinary bladder late effects, as follows:

  • Chemotherapy. The oxazophorine alkylating agents (cyclophosphamide and ifosfamide) and radiation therapy exposing the bladder have been implicated in the development of hemorrhagic cystitis. Chemotherapy-associated hemorrhagic cystitis presents as an acute toxicity and appears to be a rare persistent effect among clinically well characterized long-term survivor cohorts.

    In a study of 6,119 children treated between 1986 and 2010 (mean age, 12.2 years ± 6.3 standard deviation), 1.6% of patients (n = 97) developed hemorrhagic cystitis (manifesting at mean 2.7 months after transplant induction therapy and mean 12.4 months after pelvic radiation), most of whom (75%) had severity scores of II or III (scale, I–IV). Patients with radiological evidence of renal or bladder calculi or tumors invading the bladder wall were excluded from the study. Older age, previous bone marrow or peripheral stem cell transplantation, and BK virus in the urine were risk factors for hemorrhagic cystitis and were associated with a higher severity score.

    Previous exposure to cyclophosphamide has been linked to risk of bladder carcinoma. An excess prevalence of bladder tumors has also been observed in survivors of specific diagnostic types (e.g., heritable retinoblastoma) supporting the contribution of genetic factors in the development of subsequent neoplasms.

  • Radiation therapy. Pelvic radiation therapy is also associated with an increased risk of hemorrhagic cystitis that may be either acute or chronic in presentation. The risk of radiation-induced hemorrhagic cystitis is greatest among survivors treated with radiation doses of more than 30 Gy to the whole bladder or more than 60 Gy to a portion of the bladder. Long-term bladder fibrosis and contracture may result as sequelae from hemorrhagic cystitis or radiation therapy.
  • Surgery. Surgical procedures involving the lower genitourinary tract have the potential to impair normal function of the bladder and normal voiding mechanisms. Likewise, any cancer therapy or tumor infiltration that disrupts innervation of the bladder can have deleterious effects on bladder function that may manifest as impaired bladder storage, inability to void, and/or incontinence.

    Children who have undergone ileal enterocystoplasty for bladder augmentation are at risk of developing a vitamin B deficiency. Serum B levels decrease over time after the procedure, with the greatest risk occurring 7 years postoperatively.

Table 19 summarizes kidney and bladder late effects and the related health screenings.

Refer to the for urinary late effects information including risk factors, evaluation, and health counseling.

Changes to This Summary (01/02/2018)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

General Information About Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer

Added Bhakta et al. as reference 15.

Added text to state that using the cumulative burden metric—which incorporates multiple health conditions and recurrent events into a single metric that takes into account competing risks—by age 50 years, survivors in the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort experienced an average of 17.1 chronic health conditions, 4.7 of which were severe/disabling, life threatening, or fatal. This is in contrast to the cumulative burden in matched community controls who experienced 9.2 chronic health conditions, 2.3 of which were severe/disabling, life threatening, or fatal.

Added Figure 1 depicting the distribution of cumulative burden by age among childhood cancer survivors of specific pediatric cancer subtypes and community controls participating in St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study.

Subsequent Neoplasms

Added text about the results of a follow-up Childhood Cancer Survivor Study that evaluated morbidity and mortality associated with meningioma among 4,221 participants treated with cranial radiation therapy (cited Bowers et al. as reference 7).

Added text about the results of a Dutch study that evaluated the contribution of chemotherapy to solid cancer risk in a large cohort of childhood cancer survivors diagnosed between 1963 and 2001.

Added text to state that in a population-based study of 69,460 5-year survivors of cancer diagnosed before age 20 years, the risk of subsequent primary bone cancer was 22-fold greater than that of the general population, with an estimated 45-year cumulative incidence of 0.6%, compared with an expected rate of 0.03% in the general population. The observed excess numbers of subsequent primary bone cancer declined with both age and years from diagnosis (cited Fidler et al. as reference 55).

Added text about the results of a Dutch study that investigated the risk of sarcoma in a large cohort of childhood cancer survivors diagnosed between 1963 and 2001.

Added Wang et al. as reference 80.

Late Effects of the Cardiovascular System

Added text about the results of a St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study that compared the prevalence of major and minor electrocardiography (ECG) abnormalities among 2,715 participants and 268 community controls (cited Mulrooney et al. as reference 19).

Added text about the results of a Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Survivor Study that investigated cardiac mortality in more than 200,000 5-year survivors of adolescent and young adult cancer (cited Henson et al. as reference 20).

Added van Dijk et al. as reference 51.

Added text about the results of a Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Survivor Study that evaluated the risk of hospitalization for a cerebrovascular event among 5-year survivors of cancer diagnosed at age 15 to 39 years (cited Bright et al. as reference 55).

Late Effects of the Digestive System

This section was comprehensively reviewed, extensively revised, and reformatted.

Late Effects of the Endocrine System

Added text about the results of a French study that evaluated the overall and age-specific prevalence of and risk factors for metabolic syndrome and its components among 650 adult survivors of childhood leukemia treated without hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (cited Saultier et al. as reference 71).

Late Effects of the Immune System

This section was comprehensively reviewed, extensively revised, and reformatted.

Late Effects of the Musculoskeletal System

This section was comprehensively reviewed, extensively revised, and reformatted.

Late Effects of the Reproductive System

Added text about the results of a nationwide Finnish population-based registry study that compared the risk of congenital anomalies in the offspring of 6,862 long-term survivors of childhood, adolescent, and young adult cancer treated between 1953 and 2004 with the risk of congenital anomalies in the offspring of 35,690 siblings (cited Seppänen et al. as reference 71).

Late Effects of the Respiratory System

This section was comprehensively reviewed, extensively revised, and reformatted.

Late Effects of the Special Senses

Revised text to state that a higher cumulative dose of platinum-based chemotherapy (≥300 mg/m) is a risk factor associated with hearing loss (cited Clemens et al. as reference 5).

Added text to state that in a cross-sectional, multicenter analysis that included 451 Dutch childhood cancer survivors who received platinum agents but not cranial radiation therapy, the incidence of ototoxicity associated with the use of carboplatin given alone was 17%.

Late Effects of the Urinary System

This section was comprehensively reviewed, extensively revised, and reformatted.

This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.

About This PDQ Summary

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the late effects of treatment for childhood cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.

Reviewers and Updates

This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:

  • be discussed at a meeting,
  • be cited with text, or
  • replace or update an existing article that is already cited.

Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.

The lead reviewers for Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer are:

  • Louis S. Constine, MD (James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at University of Rochester Medical Center)
  • Melissa Maria Hudson, MD (St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)
  • Nita Louise Seibel, MD (National Cancer Institute)

Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.

Levels of Evidence

Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as “NCI’s PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary].”

The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated . Available at: Accessed . [PMID: 26389273]

Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in this summary, along with many other cancer-related images, is available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.


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