Cancer Survivors Age Faster, Die Younger

A study published in ESMO Open, a journal of the European Society of Medical Oncology, found that cancer survivors age faster and die sooner than those who have never had the disease.

The average life expectancy for people who have survived childhood cancer is 30 percent lower than the general population. In general, cancer survivors also were more likely to develop long-term health conditions, such as heart problems, lung scarring, secondary cancers, and frailty. The researchers noted that the illness and accelerated aging are a direct consequence of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Key findings from the study included:

  • Hematopoietic cell transplant recipients are eight times more likely to become frail than their healthy siblings.
  • Long-term steroid treatment is associated with an increased risk of cataracts, brittle bones, nerve damage, impaired wound healing, and diminished immune response.
  • Anti-cancer drugs have been associated with hearing loss, reduced thyroid levels, high blood pressure, heart failure, muscle weakness, arthritis, infertility, constipation, and kidney and liver diseases.
  • Radiotherapy has been linked to dementia, memory loss, hardened arteries, and secondary cancers.
  • Childhood cancer survivors are up to six times more likely to develop a secondary cancer than the general population.

There are about 30 million cancer survivors worldwide, and researchers predict that about 19 million new cancer diagnoses will be made every year by 2025. Many of those people will survive their cancer, only to face long-term health consequences.

“While aging prematurely is a better alternative to dying prematurely, a better understanding of what drives this process presents an opportunity for improvement,” corresponding author Shahrukh Hashmi, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said.

Sources: The Telegraph, December 18, 2017; HealthDay, December 19, 2017; Cupit-Link MC, Kirkland JL, Ness KK, et al. Biology of premature ageing in survivors of cancer. ESMO Open. 2017 December 18.