Cancer survivors age faster and die sooner, major study suggests
Cancer survivors age faster and are far more likely to die sooner than people who have never had the disease, a major study has shown.
A review into more than 1,200 published articles found that the average life expectancy of childhood cancer survivors is 30 per cent lower than the general population.
It means that a youngster who suffered cancer is likely to die in their 50s rather than 80s.
In general, cancer survivors are also more likely to develop long term conditions, such as heart problems, lung scarring, secondary cancers and frailty. They will also get age-associated illnesses sooner than the general population, the analysis suggests.
The researchers also found that cancer survivors had shorter telomeres - the protective caps on the end of chromosomes which are a marker of ageing - suggesting they have grown older than their actual years.
The researchers say much of the illness and accelerated ageing is down to harsh treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which damage the body’s ability to fight back from illness and repair itself.
Dr Shahrukh Hashmi of the Cancer Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who led the study said: “While ageing prematurely is a better alternative to dying prematurely, a better understanding of what drives this process presents an opportunity for improvement.
"We believe that cancer survivors deserve long-term follow-up for the mitigation of the late effects."
Around 52 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer in Britain will survive for at least five years.
But the analysis found that childhood cancer survivors are up to six times more likely to develop a secondary cancer, compared with the general population. The risk of frailty among bone marrow transplant recipients is around eight times as high as that of their siblings.
Likewise people given steroid treatments, are at higher risk of cataracts, osteoporosis, nerve damage, skin thinning, infection and impaired wound healing
Some cancer drugs were also found to be associated with hearing loss, reduced thyroid gland activity, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, muscular weakness, arthritis, kidney and liver diseases, chronic constipation, and infertility.
Radiotherapy was associated with dementia, memory loss, carotid artery hardening, and secondary bone marrow cell and blood cancers.
The researchers have called for greater research into how to stave off the early ageing process and premature disease, to help improve the lives of cancer survivors.
“We believe that cancer survivors deserve long term follow up for the mitigation of the late effects,” the researchers conclude.
“Future research to better understand mechanisms of accelerated ageing-like phenotypes is essential for the oncology community as well as from a public health and health policy perspective,” they add.
“The ultimate goal of these studies will be to prevent late complications using early interventions, including lifestyle changes and medications.”
The research was publishing ESMO Open, the journal of the European Society of Medical Oncology.