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Kids with cancer: Part V: Survivors continue to deal with side effects from treatment

— “We provide ongoing medical care to cancer survivors of all ages,” said Dr. Jody Sima, a pediatric oncologist who specializes in cancer survivorship. “Most long-term cancer survivors have complications of their cancer and treatment that can appear many years after treatment is complete. Medical care can improve the symptoms or decrease the severity of these long-term complications.”

The complications vary depending on the cancer for which the child was treated and include second cancers, infertility, cognitive difficulties, slowed or decreased growth or bone development and cardiovascular disease. And because complications often don’t appear until long after treatment has ended, it’s not just children who end up at the Survivor Wellness Center.

“Often, the long-term complications do not appear until 10 to 20 years after the cancer has been treated,” Sima said. “For this reason, our center has been designed to see adult patients. A child who is at high risk for long-term complications may be seen regularly for as long as necessary.”

Sima said it’s important to educate patients and their primary care physicians about the potential late effects of cancer even after it’s in remission.

“The long-term medical complications for cancer are serious, and many physicians are not aware of the risks,” she said. “This is a specialized area of medicine in which few people have training and expertise. That is why our goal is to provide patient care, but also to serve as a resource for other providers. We can see a patient in consultation, and then they can see their primary care doctor or oncologist with the most recent data on long-term complications for that patient.”

Bouncing back

Despite the potential for complications, it’s not all dark skies ahead. The most important battle has been won: the patient has beaten the cancer.

And having won that battle leaves little patients with some strengths their peers don’t have, Sima said.

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