2/16/2010 - An estimated one in 640 adults have survived childhood cancer

But very little is known about the lifestyle and health behaviors of these survivors -- especially minority survivors -- as they grow older.

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers are examining weight, diet, physical activity, smoking and medical follow-up in a study of adult childhood cancer survivors to determine how health status, cultural and ethnic factors and perceived vulnerability for secondary cancers might influence health behaviors.

Despite advances in treatment for childhood cancer and dramatic improvements in long-term survival, many patients will develop other medical conditions related to their chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment, known as late effects, said Melinda Stolley, principal investigator of the study and researcher at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.

These conditions, which include heart disease, high cholesterol, pulmonary issues, osteoporosis, thyroid problems and secondary cancers, can be worsened by lifestyle behaviors, such as high-fat diets, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol intake.

Little is known about the lifestyle behaviors of adult survivors of childhood cancers, Stolley said, and what is known is based mostly on studies of white survivors.

"Almost nothing is known about ethnic-minority adults who survived cancer as children. We hope our current study will help fill this gap in knowledge," she said.

Previous research has shown that risk factors for late effects depend upon the type of treatment the child was given, the age at which the treatments were given, and other factors, such as genetics.

The UIC study, known as the Chicago Healthy Living Study, is funded by the National Cancer Institute. The study plans to enroll 450 African American, Hispanic and Caucasian adult survivors of childhood cancer and 375 healthy controls. Survivors who are eligible for the study must have been diagnosed with childhood cancer before age 20, they must be cancer-free for five years, and they must be over 18.

Participants will be asked to complete a two-hour interview and have their height and weight recorded. They will also be paid for time and travel.

Results from the study will be used to design programs targeted at keeping future cancer survivors healthy as they grow older.

"We hope to address the needs of minority survivors, not just those who have survived, but also the kids who will be newly diagnosed with cancer in the future," said Stolley. "This study is really about survivors helping other survivors."

"There's a whole group of adults out there who have no idea that they are at risk for these late effects," said Stolley.

Children diagnosed with cancer in the last decade are receiving better follow-up care than those diagnosed two or three decades ago when the long-term effects of chemotherapy and radiation were unknown, she said.

According to data published in 2008 from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, 31.5 percent of survivors reported receiving medical care that focused on their prior cancer and 17.8 percent reported survivor-focused care that included advice about risk reduction and screening tests.

Most primary care physicians do not have information on late effects and may not be aware of long-term follow-up guidelines for adult survivors of childhood cancer, said Stolley. "Part of our effort involves educating physicians and patients about recommendations for long-term follow-up care and screening," she said.

Stolley and her UIC co-investigators Richard Campbell, Mary Lou Schmidt, and Lisa Sharp are collaborating with Chicago area children's hospitals (University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago, Children's Memorial Hospital, University of Chicago Hospitals, Rush University Medical Center, and John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital) to conduct the research.

For more information about the study, visit www.ihrp.uic.edu/files/CHLS_flyer08jan.pdf or contact Claudia Arroyo at (312) 413-1996, CHLS@uic.edu.

UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 26,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.