Children who are successfully treated for Hodgkin's disease are 18 times more likely to go on and develop secondary malignant tumours, while girls face a 35 per cent chance of developing breast cancer by the time they are 40 which is 75 times greater
These findings are a crushing blow to a medical establishment that had been patting itself on its collective back for Hodgkin's disease treatment, which it considered to be a model of successful therapy. Cure rates of over 90 per cent have been achieved from chemotherapy and low dose radiation.
The risk of leukemia increased markedly four years after the ending of successful treatment, and reached a plateau after 14 years, but the risk of developing solid tumours remained high and approached 30 per cent at 30 years.
These findings, which mean all children successfully treated for Hodgkin's disease need to be carefully monitored for the best part of their lives afterwards, come from the Late Effects Study Group, based at the University of Minnesota. The group followed 1380 children treated for Hodgkin's between 1955 and 1986 to discover any major reactions after treatment had finished.
The risk of developing a secondary tumour increased in those who were older when they had the cancer treatment, with 74 per cent of cancers occurring in those whose Hodgkin's disease was diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 16 years.
But the most worrying development was the vastly increased risk of breast cancer among the female patients. The level of radiation seems to be the deciding factor, although the age when Hodgkin's was diagnosed was also an important factor. Sixteeen of the 17 breast cancer cases noted by the study group occurred in patients who were aged between 10 and 16 when treatment first started.