Cancer survivors age quicker and prone to ailments, doctors find

Diseases such as osteoporosis and dementia can happen sooner in cancer survivors

Radiotherapy is also associated with dementia and memory loss, diseases common in the elderly. Photograph: Getty Images

Radiotherapy is also associated with dementia and memory loss, diseases common in the elderly. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Cancer survivors age faster and are far more likely to die sooner than those who have never had the disease, new research suggests.

This is because those who survive cancers are more like to develop long term conditions such as hormonal/gland disorders (endocrinopathies), heart problems, lower bone mineral density, lung scarring (pulmonary fibrosis), secondary cancers and frailty , a new research study has shown.

The findings emerged after doctors in the United States analysed the health outcomes of thousands of cancer survivors.

There are now an estimated 30 million in the world and those numbers are increasing as people live longer and better treatments are found.

The research, which is published in the online journal ESMO Open, found that childhood cancer survivors’ estimated life expectancy is 30 per cent lower than that of the general population.

Higher risk

Childhood cancer survivors are also between three and six times as likely to develop a second cancer.

Long term steroid treatment, a component of many cancer treatment strategies, is associated with a higher risk of cataracts, osteoporosis, nerve damage, skin thinning, infection and impaired wound healing.

Primary cancer drugs are associated with conditions which are common in ageing people. They include hearing loss, reduced thyroid gland activity, high blood pressure, heart failure, muscular weakness, arthritis, kidney and liver diseases, chronic constipation, and infertility.

Radiotherapy is also associated with dementia and memory loss, diseases common in the elderly.

The researchers state that ageing prematurely is better than dying prematurely, but it is important there be a better understanding of what drives this process presents an opportunity for improvement.

‘Late effects’

The doctors also stressed that though cancer treatments can have short and long-term side effects, they are worthwhile for patients with the disease and that ageing is part of life.

However, they also say accelerated ageing, experienced by many cancer survivors as a direct consequence of their treatment, is something that can, and should, be minimised.

“We believe that cancer survivors deserve long term follow up for the mitigation of the late effects,” they write.

“Future research to better understand mechanisms of accelerated ageing-like phenotypes is essential for the oncology community as well as from a public health and health policy perspective.”