Survivors of childhood cancers are nearly 10 times more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease as adults than people who did not have cancer as children, according to a study conducted by researchers from Emory University and published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Researchers remain unsure of the exact reason for the increased risk, but the effects of radiation therapy appear to play a significant role.
“Mechanistically, we are not yet sure why this is, but the association is definitely there,” said researcher Lillian R. Meacham.
Using data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, researchers compared data from 8,599 cancer survivors with data from 2,936 of their cancer-free siblings.
They found that cancer survivors had a 60 percent higher chance of being on cholesterol medicine, a 70 percent higher chance of suffering from diabetes and nearly a 100 percent higher chance of being on blood pressure drugs. They were no more likely that their siblings to suffer from obesity, however, suggesting that something more than lifestyle factors are at play.
“These risk factors are manifesting at about age 32, which is much younger than a non-cancer survivor would exhibit signs of cardiovascular risk factors,” Meacham said. “Some have suggested that when you are a cancer survivor there are parts of you that wear out early, so we need to be vigilant about our follow-up of these patients in order to find these late effects early and intervene.”
Physical activity increased a cancer survivor’s risk of suffering more than one symptom by 70 percent compared with cancer free siblings. Being older when the study was conducted increased survivor’s risk by 8.2 times compared with their siblings.
Radiation therapy was also strongly associated with cardiovascular risk, with those who had undergone chest and abdomen radiation suffering from 2.2 times the risk of cardiovascular risk factor clustering as those who had not undergone the therapy. Total-body radiation increased the risk by 5.5 times.