November 1994
Media Contact:Karin Twilde
Phone: (410) 955-1287
E-mail: KTwilde@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

Note: Patients are available for interviews.

The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center has begun a novel program to examine the long-term effects of childhood cancer treatment.

"We used to pat children on the head and tell them to have a good life. We now know that we must continue to watch for effects of treatment that may show up 10, 20, or more years later," says Cindy Schwartz, M.D., associate professor of oncology and pediatrics and associate director of clinical programs in Pediatric Oncology.

"As the number of long-term survivors continues to grow, there is an increasing need for better understanding and management of late complications," Schwartz says. "Many survivors are now in their twenties and thirties and interested in having children of their own. They have questions about fertility and possible risks of treatment to their own offspring. We want to be able to provide them with answers," she says.

Schwartz's program will follow pediatric cancer patients who are five or more years post-treatment to examine complications related to anticancer drugs and radiation therapy they received. Common long-term effects of childhood cancer treatment include growth and learning problems; infertility; and damage to organs such as the heart, lungs, kidney or thyroid. Schwartz and her team will counsel patients about these potential risks and recommend treatment when necessary.

While oncologists have known for some time that the toxicity of cancer treatment can result in long-term developmental and health problems for children, it is only recently that programs dedicated to the survivors have been formed. This new program at Hopkins will evaluate and counsel families about long-term concerns. Schwartz will study interventions that may decrease the risk of side effects.

"Providing proper screening for and management of complications must be a part of any comprehensive pediatric cancer program," says Curt Civin, M.D., director of the Pediatric Oncology Division at Hopkins.

Schwartz notes, "The problem is not just that late effects occur, but also that these effects are often not recognized early enough. Many physicians, including some oncologists, are not familiar with the potential complications, therefore, they don't know what to screen for and can intervene only after symptoms occur. Our goal is to manage treatment-related effects before they present a problem."

Childhood cancer survivors and family members can contact the clinic at 410-955-8751.

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