By John Salak –
Battling a significant disease at a young age is devastating both emotionally and physically. Now, however, researchers are delving into the long-term effects various illnesses have on the young as they age and they’re seeing different ramifications depending on the diseases and treatments encountered.
Scientists in Britain, for example, warned that those surviving cancer at an early age have a relatively higher risk of illness as they grow older. The risk can actually increase further depending on the type of cancer and the treatments used, according to the study by University College London.
The higher risk can be significant, the university’s researchers reported. They discovered that cancer survivors had five times as many visits to doctors or hospitals for cardiovascular issues by age 45 as individuals who didn’t encounter cancer at an early age. The survivors also had more visits relating to infections, immune system issues and subsequent cancers.
The type of cancer treatment patients face seems to be another factor in how they fared later in life. Individuals who were treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy experienced twice the number of health care visits later in life than those who only had surgery.
The British researchers stressed that their finding underscored the need to carefully consider the long-term ramifications of various treatment procedures for younger patients before proceeding on a course of action.
“Over 80 percent of children and young people diagnosed with cancer survive, but they face unique healthcare needs because of late effects brought on by cancer or its treatment. Our study is the first to fully map out how surviving cancer early in life affects our health as we grow older,” explained Dr. Alvina Lai, the study’s senior author.
Understanding the potential long-term impact of treatment options is also critical for the survivors because it allows them to more effectively spot potentially ominous symptoms as they age, she added.
“Combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy are effective at saving lives but are associated with a lower quality of life in the long term,” added Wai Hoong Chang, another author of the paper. “Our study suggests using lower doses could reduce these long-term effects.”
While the later-life impact of surviving cancer can be ominous, the American Heart Association reported that individuals who faced and overcame heart health issues at a young age often reduced the risk of premature heart attacks or strokes later in life.
The association’s report comes as the number of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease is rising throughout the world, including the U.S.
The conclusions were drawn after researchers in South Korea examined the results of routine health examinations for almost 6 million individuals ages 20 to 29. Approximately two-thirds of these individuals were men. Participants were then categorized based on ideal cardiovascular health (CVH) scores established by the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7® metrics.
Under this approach, individuals receive “one point” towards a cardiovascular health (CVH) score for a variety of measures, such as maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, having low total cholesterol, keeping an active lifestyle, healthy weight and not smoking.
Not surprisingly, researchers discovered that rates of premature (younger than 55) cardiovascular events were highest among patients with a zero CVH.
Simply increasing a CVH score by one point resulted in significantly reduced risks for heart attack (down 42 percent), heart failure (down 30 percent) and cardiovascular death (down 25 percent).
Individuals who gradually improved their CVH score over time also lowered their risk of hospitalizations or death from a heart attack, stroke or heart failure. But people who begin with and maintain a high CVH score faced the lowest risk of cardiovascular issues.
“Most people lose ideal cardiovascular health before they reach midlife, yet few young people have immediate health concerns and many do not usually seek medical care until approaching midlife,” noted Dr. Hyeon Chang Kim, the study’s lead author.
The Korean researchers, therefore, stressed that timely and consistent monitoring of heart health among young adults is critical to prevent premature onset of heart disease and reduce the risk of later-life cardiovascular problems. Nonetheless, they warned that more needed to be done.
“We need strategies to help preserve or restore heart health in this population because we know poor heart health in young adults is linked to premature cardiovascular disease,” said Kim.