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More than 30 years ago, a new kind of patient began to appear in the cardiology clinic at Boston Children's Hospital: young people whose cancer treatment first saved their lives and then threatened to kill them.
Steven Lipshultz, a bespectacled pediatric cardiologist, examined them. They ranged from preschoolers to young adults, and all had recovered from leukemia, lymphoma, or other cancers. They were new to Lipshultz for a reason: Until recently, most children with cancer died.
Miracle - Making - Trials - Combinations - Drugs
But in the 1980s, a medical miracle was in the making. Clinical trials had pointed to combinations of drugs and radiation that could rescue once-doomed children. Survival rates, in the single digits for leukemia in the 1960s, surged past 50% and kept climbing. Oncologists and families celebrated the formerly unimaginable: birthday parties, high school graduations, a life relieved of terrible stress and fear. "Children were told they're free and clear, they're cured," says Lipshultz, now at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system.
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However, he discovered they no longer had cancer, but they weren't healthy, either. Chemotherapy and, for lymphoma survivors, radiation used to shrink chest tumors had weakened hearts in ways he didn't fully understand. Anywhere from months to more than a decade after treatment, they trailed into Lipshultz's waiting room, frail and struggling to breathe.
People - Alarm - Cancer - Treatment - Aftereffects
Those young people were among the first to sound the alarm that pediatric cancer treatment could have grave aftereffects. Some, such as those Lipshultz cared for, suffered from abnormal heart rhythm or heart failure. Others ran into a slew of health problems: a second cancer caused by treatment for the first, infertility, trouble learning, thyroid abnormalities, impaired lung function, kidney disease. As more children survived, more doctors learned just how high...
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