For children and their families, surviving cancer is an incredible triumph. The good news is that about 80 percent of children who have cancer now survive their disease (National Cancer Institute). However, this important milestone also marks the beginning of a child’s lifelong journey as a cancer survivor – A journey that may be difficult as their disease and treatment can affect their health for many years to come.

While cancer recurrence may be the overriding fear for many cancer survivors, a recent national study found that nearly half of survivors die of something other than cancer later in life, such as heart disease or diabetes, underscoring the importance of survivors being aware of their long-term risks and overall health. This especially rings true for childhood cancer survivors where about two-thirds suffer from at least one chronic health condition and about one-third have a life-threatening condition, according to a 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Comprehensive Care for Survivors

In understanding that holistic, long-term support is critical for cancer survivors to help address and prevent these outcomes, Seattle Children’s provides a unique Cancer Survivor Program that aims to keep survivors healthy throughout their life by providing comprehensive care and education about their health risks.

“Many cancer therapies can take a tremendous toll on a child’s developing body, setting the stage for future health problems such as learning disabilities or heart disease,” says Dr. Scott Baker, director of Seattle Children’s Cancer Survivor Program. “The key is in educating survivors about their risks and how to best protect their health in order to help them lead longer, healthier lives.”

So what makes Seattle Children’s program special? It provides three types of services to childhood cancer survivors: clinical care, education and research. Here is a sampling of what is involved in each area of care:

Education

  • Each survivor gets a notebook that describes the treatment he/she received for his/her disease, the health issues he/she should be aware of, how to stay healthy and the long-term outcomes for which he/she is at risk.
  • A personalized cancer treatment summary and long-term follow-up recommendations are sent to the survivor’s primary care provider.
  • Guidance as the survivor transitions from pediatric to adult healthcare and a chance to network with other childhood cancer survivors and their families.

Clinical Care

  • Our multidisciplinary Cancer Survivor Program healthcare providers review the survivor’s medical and cancer history, assess medical and psychosocial needs and recommend health-related follow-up care.

Research

  • The option to take part in ongoing research studies about medical and psychosocial issues for long-term survivors.

On the Forefront of Cancer Survivorship Research

Seattle Children’s Drs. Baker and Eric Chow, the medical director of Children’s Cancer Survivor Program, are making key contributions to the ongoing nationwide Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS). Specifically, they are determined to find ways of preventing the heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems that are leading causes of illness and death among long-term survivors of childhood cancer.

They have spearheaded research that could help diagnose these problems at their earliest stages and lead to new therapies that could overcome them. A few examples:

  • Dr. Eric Chow is developing a tool that could quickly and easily identify which cancer survivors are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, based on key factors including their age and the treatment they received.
  • Dr. Baker is working to unravel why metabolic disorders are so common among people who have received bone marrow transplants. He has found that the transplant process leads to muscle loss and that muscle is replaced by fat. Dr. Baker is currently studying what causes the body to lose muscle, and he plans to investigate whether existing interventions — like drug therapies, diet and exercise regimens — can overcome survivors’ insulin resistance and reduce their cardiovascular risks.

You can learn more about their research by visiting, “Improving the Quality of Life After Cancer,” which appeared in Seattle Children’s 2011 Academic Annual Report.

If you’d like to arrange an interview with Dr. Baker or Dr. Chow, please contact Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or press@seattlechildrens.org.