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09/04/2009 - Articles

Diabetes among childhood cancer survivors

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD


Children who survive cancer may be at risk of other diseases in later life, including diabetes.  Researchers at Emory University have carried out a survey of diabetes in 8,599 childhood survivors of cancer and compared them to randomly selected siblings.

The cancer survivors had been diagnosed before the age of 21 and many had been treated with either whole body or abdominal radiation.  The researchers found that 218 (2.5%) of the survivors had diabetes, compared to 49 (1.7%) of their siblings.


After taking other factors, like body mass index, age and sex, into account, cancer survivors had a 1.8 times greater diabetes risk.  Thos who had had whole body irradiation, abdominal irradiation and cranial irradiation were at increased risk of diabetes.  With abdominal irradiation, the increased risk of diabetes was 2.7 times and with total body irradiation it was 7.2 times. And those diagnosed with cancer before age 5 were 2.4 times more likely to report diabetes compared to those diagnosed with cancer in late adolescence.  Older age, black or Hispanic/Latino background, lower household income, physical inactivity and increased body mass index were extra risk factors for diabetes in childhood cancer survivors.


The findings have two messages. First, childhood cancer survivors should be screened regularly for both pre-diabetes and diabetes so early intervention can be offered.  Second, there is need for further research to find out just why whole body irradiation and abdominal irradiation should set the scene for diabetes in later life. 


Meacham L, Sklar C et al Diabetes mellitus in long-term survivors of childhood cancer: Increased risk associated with radiation therapy: a report for the Childhood Cancer Survival Study Archives of Internal Medicine August 10/24 2009;169:1381-1388

Created on: 09/04/2009
Reviewed on: 09/04/2009

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