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Childhood Brain Cancer Causes Other Long-Term Problems

Treatment leaves survivors with significant cognitive decline, researchers find

MONDAY, Nov. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Childhood brain cancer survivors have ongoing cognitive problems and achieve lower levels of education, employment and income than their siblings and survivors of other types of cancer, a U.S. study has found.

The findings, published by the American Psychological Association in the November issue of Neuropsychology, highlight the importance of programs to support childhood brain cancer survivors' transition to adulthood, said Leah Ellenberg, a clinical faculty member of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ellenberg and colleagues analyzed responses to a questionnaire filled out by 785 childhood brain cancer survivors 16 years after their diagnosis. The same questionnaire was completed by 5,870 survivors of cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkin's disease and bone tumors, and 379 siblings of childhood brain cancer survivors.

The study found that childhood brain cancer survivors reported significantly greater neurocognitive dysfunction than their siblings or other cancer survivors. All areas of cognitive function were affected in childhood brain cancer survivors, including organization and emotional regulation.

The most commonly reported problems were in memory and efficiency, such as forgetting what they're doing in the middle of a task and being slower than others at completing work. More than half of childhood brain cancer survivors reported significant difficulty with at least one task efficiency item, a rate three times higher than among their siblings.

The most serious neurocognitive problems were reported by childhood brain cancer survivors with significant motor or sensory problems after treatment, those who were treated with radiation to their brains, and those who had tumors in the brain cortex rather than in lower brain regions, the researchers found.

The neurocognitive issues reported by childhood brain cancer survivors were associated with significantly poorer adaptation to adult life, including lower achievement in education, full-time employment and income. They were also less likely to be married, the study authors noted.

The study "underscores the need for continued attention to mitigating the long-term negative effects of [childhood brain cancers] and their treatment," the study authors wrote. They added that it's "important to investigate the benefits of early and consistent use of compensatory strategies, including assistive technology, transitional facilities to promote independent living, and job placement and coaching, to enhance functional outcomes."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about childhood brain tumors.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, Nov. 2, 2009

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