People who are undergo radiation therapy for childhood cancers are significantly more likely to develop diabetes as adults, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Emory University and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
A number of studies have found that radiation, chemotherapy, and other such treatments significantly shorten the lives of childhood cancer survivors.
“As a result of their curative therapies, childhood cancer survivors face an increased risk of morbidity and mortality,” the researchers wrote. Nearly 75 percent of such children develop a chronic health condition within 30 years of diagnosis, while 42.4 percent develop severe, disabling or life-threatening health conditions. Because cardiovascular disease is a major killer of childhood cancer survivors, the researchers examined the effect of radiation treatment on the risk of diabetes, a major correlate of cardiovascular mortality.
The researchers examined diabetes rates in 8,599 people who had been diagnosed with cancer before the age of 21, between 1970 and 1986. These rates were compared with 2,936 of their cancer-free siblings, who were randomly selected. All participants were screened for diabetes in 2003.
After adjusting for other diabetes risk factors including age, body mass index, ethnicity, exercise, income, insurance and race, the researchers found that those who had undergone cancer treatment as children were 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as adults than their siblings were. Those who had been treated with abdominal radiation were 2.7 times more likely to have diabetes, while those who had been treated with whole-body radiation were a shocking 7.2 times more likely to be diabetic.
Risk increased with radiation dose used, and decreased with age at diagnosis. People diagnosed with cancer before the age of five had 2.4 times the diabetes risk as those diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 20.
A previous study found that childhood cancer survivors were five to 10 times more likely to suffer from heart disease than their cancer-free siblings, and significantly more likely to suffer from kidney disease.
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