The blood vessels of adults who survived childhood cancer age more quickly than those of adults who did not have cancer as a child. However, it is not only the blood vessels in the area affected by radiation treatment that age more quickly, but also the vessels outside that area. This has recently been proved by researchers from the Child Oncology, Vascular Medicine and Medical Oncology Departments of the UMCG. The researchers published their findings in this week’s edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The UMCG has been monitoring survivors of childhood cancer for many years in an effort to identify any delayed effects of previous treatment. Damage to the blood vessel walls, which is common as people get older, results in a thickening of the inside of the blood vessel. This type of thickening of the wall of the blood vessels is particularly evident in adults who have undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy, especially if the radiation was concentrated on the throat or chest area. This accelerated ageing of the blood vessels is often linked to other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and obesity. Children who were treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy on the throat or chest are particularly prone to developing this phenomenon.
The discovery is important as it may make it possible to reduce the delayed damage for survivors of childhood cancer. Closely monitoring this group and screening them for high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels and diabetes (all risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease) will enable prompt medical intervention where needed. Accelerated ageing of the blood vessels can be slowed down by making improvements to lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet and taking more exercise. It is therefore important to ensure that this group of patients is offered optimum ‘Cancer Survivor Care’. The UMCG already provides this care to survivors of childhood cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and testicular cancer.
Follow-up studies are currently taking place in the Child Oncology and Medical Oncology Departments of the UMCG, coordinated by Wim Tissing and Jourik Gietema. The studies are trying to identify any changes in the blood vessels and metabolism that occur during or shortly after treatment for cancer. It is vitally important to keep damage to healthy tissue to an absolute minimum during cancer treatment. This is known as primary prevention. Proton therapy (a form of radiotherapy that can administer a highly accurate dose of radiation) rather than ‘regular’ radiotherapy can play a major role in realizing this ambition.
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