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Cancer-Free Isn’t Free: Survivorship is a Lifelong Journey

June 1, 2024
4 min read
Childhood Cancer Survivor Stat

June is National Cancer Survivor Month, a time to celebrate childhood cancer survivors and recognize that when a child is declared cancer-free, their cancer story isn’t over. Surviving childhood cancer is just the first step in a lifelong journey.

One in every 680 adults (age 20-50) is a childhood cancer survivor.

Whether they were diagnosed as infants, children or teens, every childhood cancer survivor’s health needs to be monitored carefully for the rest of their lives.

The Risks

Each survivor’s risk of late effects of cancer treatment depends on his or her tumor, specific treatments, age, genetic makeup and other factors. Surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation, stem cell transplants and other treatments take a toll on the body – and sometimes the mind – in many ways. Some late effects make life more difficult; others are life-threatening.

Heart and lung problems are common, as are secondary cancers. Of all the late effects childhood cancer survivors face, these are the deadliest.

Other late effects can include hearing problems, hormonal imbalances, difficulty growing, mental health needs or cognitive deficiencies, bone density issues and easy bone fractures, fertility and reproductive problems, and more.

If all of this sounds scary, it is. Imagine having a heart attack in your 20’s. Or being diagnosed with breast cancer in your 30’s as a result of the radiation you had as a child. Or fighting graft-vs-host-disease for years after the bone marrow transplant that rid your body of cancer. These are just a few of the reasons we say cancer-free isn’t free.

No Expiration Date

And with every year that passes, the risk of these late effects doesn’t decrease: It increases.

We used to say that more than two-thirds of all childhood cancer survivors experience serious health consequences of their treatment. That’s true, but now research supported by St. Baldrick’s, taking a more detailed look at the cumulative effects of cancer and its treatments over time, shows a harsher reality:

By the time they are 50 years old, more than 99% of today’s childhood cancer survivors have had a chronic health problem, and 96% have experienced a severe or life-threatening condition caused by their treatments.

Another way to look at it: By age 50, childhood cancer survivors have experienced, on average, 17 adverse effects, 3 to 5 of those being life-threatening.

By the time a child in treatment for cancer today reaches the age of 50, we want these stats to be far less grim.

St. Baldrick’s donors are funding research to cure kids in ways that leave them healthier – not just during and immediately after cancer treatment, but for the rest of their lives.

St. Baldrick’s remains laser-focused on finding better treatments for those we can’t cure yet, while working to lessen the lifelong challenges faced by survivors, caused by the very treatments that cured them. In fact, donors like you have supported more than 70 institutions with more than 150 grants totaling over $20 million, specifically to improve survivorship.

Some, like Supportive Care Research Grants, focus on how to help those who are already survivors to lead healthier lives. Others aim to change treatments for patients of today, to give them a better tomorrow.

Kids deserve better than to survive, they deserve to thrive. You can make that possible for children with cancer by supporting research to find better treatments.


Long-term effects of cancer treatments

  • Cognitive Deficits
  • Growth Hormone Deficiency
  • Hearing Loss
  • Heart Disease
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome
  • Irregular Bone & Muscle Growth
  • Infertility
  • Secondary Cancers
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Low Thyroid Hormone
  • Emotional & Social Issues