Frailty contributes to neurocognitive decline in young adult childhood cancer survivors

We think this will bring more attention to this accelerated aging phenotype in young adult survivors. It will make it a little easier for us to identify the survivors most at risk for neurocognitive decline. We can use this information and the rest of our vulnerability research to design a broad intervention that can help us simultaneously improve vulnerability in survivors, as well as neurocognitive functioning.”

AnnaLynn Williams, Ph.D., lead author, St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control

More important than previously acknowledged

Cancer-related neurocognitive disorders affect up to 35% of childhood cancer survivors. It can affect all aspects of their lives, including their physical functioning and daily activities.

Over a five-year period, researchers found that survivors who experienced treatment-related frailty had significantly greater declines in memory, attention, processing speed and other functions compared to survivors who did not experience frailty.

The intensive chemotherapy that young adult survivors undergo during childhood is known to contribute to health problems later in life. Vulnerability is such a late effect of care.

This study and many others were based on data from the St. Jude Lifetime Cohort Study (St. Jude LIFE). This study brings long-term childhood cancer survivors back to St. Jude for regular health checkups throughout their adult life. To date, more than 4,300 participants and 580 controls have undergone comprehensive health assessments that track a wide range of health outcomes, including cardiac, reproductive, neuromuscular, neurocognitive, and psychosocial function, among others.

“Our work has shown that childhood cancer survivors are at increased risk for frailty,” says corresponding author Kirsten Ness, Ph.D., of St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control. “As frailty has now been shown to contribute to neurocognitive deficits among other health problems, it is becoming increasingly clear that addressing frailty can help this patient population.

“This is why St. Jude LIFE studies are so important,” Ness continued. “It allows us to identify risk factors for poor health outcomes in the next generation of children with cancer so that we can provide interventions to help them.”

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