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Increased risk of stroke in childhood cancer and leukemia survivors

Thanks to the development of newer and more effective chemotherapy drugs and newer techniques for radiation therapy for patients with childhood leukemia and brain cancer, more and more children are getting cure of their leukemia and brain cancer and surviving to adulthood. These children are heavily treated with chemotherapy drugs and often treated with radiation therapy, as part of their treatment of leukemia or brain cancer. As the result of this significant prior exposure to chemotherapy and radiation therapy, children who survive leukemia or brain cancer are prone to develop various complications compared normal children.

One such complication is the increased risk of stroke. The risk of developing stroke could be extremely high in children who have survived leukemia or brain cancer. For those who have survived leukemia or brain cancer 5 years, the risk of developing leukemia is increased seven to forty two fold compared to their siblings. The risk was highest in patients who had radiation therapy for brain tumors. The study examined 4,828 leukemia survivors and 1,871 brain cancer survivors during a period of 1970 through 1986. Stroke has occurred in 91 leukemia survivors at or around a mean age of 12. The risk of stroke in leukemia survivors who developed stroke at age 12 was not depended upon cranial irradiation (radiation to the brain). Stoke occurred in 117 survivors of childhood brain tumors at a mean age of 16 years.

This study comes from Daniel Bowers MD and colleagues from University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. These results were first presented at the 41 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting. The researchers believe that the increased risk of stroke in children who have survived leukemia or brain cancer may be the result of damage to large cerebral arteries from radiation therapy. Previous studies have shown that radiation therapy to the brain can result in damage to the large arteries in the brain. The researchers are not aware of any interventions that could be employed to decrease the risk of stroke in these patients who had survived a greater toll of leukemia or brain cancer. However the researchers caution the childhood survivor of leukemia or brain cancer against anything that would increase the risk of stroke, like smoking. The researchers also encourage them to do regular exercises, and reduce the cholesterol levels in an attempt to minimize the risk of stroke and other complications.

Cancer terms:
Tumor: An abnormal growth of cells in one place, giving rise to a mass that can be felt or seen. Example: Mr. A was diagnosed with a small tumor in his brain. This tumor was seen in an MRI that was taken because of severe headache he was having. See cancer terms for more cancer related terms. Increased risk of stroke in childhood cancer and leukemia survivors

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