Pediatric cancer survivors may have to fight another killer disease early in life — heart problems, a new study claims.

According to medics, kids who undergo chemotherapy treatment for the malignancy are at a higher risk of developing early heart disease.

Prior to the early 1970s, most children with cancer did not survive, but with significant advances in radiation and chemotherapy many children are successfully treated for the lethal disease. Statistics reveal that the rate of survival has shot up from a 5-year survival rate of 58.1 percent in 1975-77 to 83.1 percent in 2003-09.

However, many cancer survivors have to battle heart problems triggered by the long-term effects of the treatments that saved their lives.

“Research has shown childhood cancer survivors face heart and other health problems decades after treatment,” said Donald R. Dengel, Ph.D., study lead author and a kinesiology professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “But researchers had not — until now — looked at the heart health effects of childhood cancer treatment while survivors are still children.”

Details of the comparative study

In a bid to determine whether cancer treatment takes a toll on heart health of survivors, the researchers studied 319 boys and girls under the age of 18 who had undergone chemotherapy treatments for leukemia or cancerous tumors. The kids had survived at least a minimum of five years of their cancer.

As a part of the study, experts compared their brachial artery structure (artery stiffness, thickness and function) with a control group of 208 healthy siblings. Arteries of kids who had survived cancer exhibited a nine percent decline in functionality after chemo treatment as opposed to the cancer free group, the study found.

“Given this increased risk, children who survive cancer should make lifestyle changes to lower their cardiovascular risk,” Dengel said. “Healthcare providers who are managing chemotherapy-treated childhood cancer survivors need to monitor cardiovascular risk factors immediately following the completion of their patients’ cancer therapy.”

The study was presented at an American Heart Association conference on Sunday.

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