Children with solid tumors in their pelvis or abdomen are often treated with X-ray (radiation) therapy. Radiation therapy in childhood has been shown to increase health risks as adults for survivors of white blood cell cancers and brain cancer, but the long-term results of radiation therapy for pelvic and abdominal tumors has not been known. A new study suggests that this treatment may increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adult survivors.

The research was done by the epidemiology and cancer control department of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee. The investigators compared 431 adult survivors of pediatric pelvic or abdominal tumors to a normal population matched for age, sex, and ethnicity drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The results of the study were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The average age of radiation treatment was about three and a half. The average age of the survivors tested was about 30.

Compared to the NHANES group, the cancer survivors treated with radiation had about a seven percent higher risk of insulin resistance (which can lead to type 2 diabetes), an eight percent higher risk of high triglycerides (which can lead to heart disease), and more than four percent higher risk of low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol (which protects against heart disease).

The NHANES group had a greater lean body mass than the cancer survivors, which could cause the survivors to burn fewer calories at rest. All together, these findings suggest that radiation treatment in these cancer survivors may increase their risk of heart and blood vessel disease (cardiovascular disease) as well as type 2 diabetes. The investigators would like to explore how early lifestyle interventions, like exercise and diet to increase lean body mass, may decrease these risks of radiation therapy.

Source: Study titled “Body Composition, Metabolic Health, and Functional Impairment among Adults Treated for Abdominal and Pelvic Tumors during Childhood,” by researchers in the department of epidemiology and cancer control, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.