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Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer

Second Cancers

Childhood cancer survivors have an increased risk of a second cancer later in life.

A different primary cancer that occurs at least two months after cancer treatment ends is called a second cancer. A second cancer may occur months or years after treatment is completed. The type of second cancer that occurs depends in part on the original type of cancer and the cancer treatment.

Second cancers that occur after cancer treatment include the following:

Certain genetic patterns or syndromes may increase the risk of a second cancer.

Some childhood cancer survivors may have an increased risk of developing a second cancer because they have a family history of cancer or an inherited genetic syndrome such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Problems with the way DNA is repaired in cells and the way anticancer drugs are used in the body may also affect the risk of second cancers.

Patients who have been treated for cancer need regular screening tests to check for a second cancer.

It is important for patients who have been treated for cancer to be checked for a second cancer before symptoms appear. This is called screening for a second cancer and may help find a second cancer at an early stage. When abnormal tissue or cancer is found early, it may be easier to treat. By the time symptoms appear, cancer may have begun to spread.

It is important to remember that your doctor does not necessarily think you have cancer if he or she suggests a screening test. Screening tests are given when you have no cancer symptoms. If a screening test result is abnormal, you may need to have more tests done to find out if you have a second cancer. These are called diagnostic tests.

The kind of test used to screen for a second cancer depends on the kind of cancer treatment the patient had in the past.

All patients who have been treated for cancer should have a physical exam and medical history done once a year. A physical exam of the body is done to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps, changes in the skin, or anything else that seems unusual. A medical history is taken to learn about the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments.

If the patient was treated for leukemia, a complete blood count (CBC) may be done. The CBC is usually done every year for 10 years after treatment with an alkylating agent or topoisomerase II inhibitor ends.

If the patient received radiation therapy, the following tests and procedures may be used: