Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle Can Mitigate Childhood Cancer Late Effects

New Brunswick, N.J., September 1, 2022 – The survival rates of adolescent and young adults with cancer have risen dramatically due to advancements in cancer therapies. However, this population is at higher risk of developing treatment-related chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, secondary cancers and psychosocial issues that may be disruptive to social development, also known as late effects. There is a growing consensus that adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with an emphasis on physical activity can help mitigate some of these detrimental effects.

Katie Devine, PhD, MPH is section chief of Pediatric Population Science, Outcomes, and Disparities Research in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s leading cancer center and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health; and associate professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. She focuses on exploring the psychosocial aspects of pediatric, adolescent, and young adult cancer survivorship, including survivorship care and health promotion for survivors. Some of her work has included exploring the feasibility of a group-based exercise intervention paired with wearable activity trackers and a mobile app to encourage survivors to engage regularly in physical activity. Most recently, Dr. Devine published a commentary in JAMA Network Open about the role of parents in supporting  physical activity among child and adolescent cancer survivors(doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.19327).

What are some common physical/mental challenges faced by young survivors of cancer?
Childhood cancer survivors are at risk of developing chronic diseases like heart and lung problems, physical frailty and fatigue, second cancers, learning and memory problems, and emotional problems like anxiety and depression. These health problems are called late effects and can occur months or years after treatment has ended due to the treatments received and other factors. It’s important to monitor for these late effects to help catch them early and treat them to reduce any negative impact on survivors’ lives.

How is physical activity defined?
Physical activity is defined as repetitive body movements produced by muscles that require energy to do. Basically any movement that a person does in their daily life. Guidelines recommend that children and adolescents get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity each day. These include activities that make their heart beat faster and breathe harder such as brisk walking, jogging, playing basketball or tag.

Why is physical activity important for childhood cancer survivors?
Physical activity has many health benefits, including improving heart and lung health, bone health, mental health, concentration and memory, and overall quality of life. Being physically active is also associated with less fatigue, less chronic disease, and longer life. Physical activity is important for everyone, but is especially important for childhood cancer survivors who are at risk for negative health problems that physical activity can help protect against.

What are some tips for childhood cancer survivors and their families for staying physically healthy after treatment?
Start small. A great way to start is to add more activity to your daily routines. For example, when you drive somewhere, park a little further away than usual. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take quick movement breaks when watching TV. Small bouts of activity add up over the day. Do it together. Activity is more fun when you do it together as a family or with friends. Start a new routine, like a family walk or dance party after dinner. Parents can lead by example—show them you enjoy being active and they’ll want to join in. Get creative. Kids and teens love technology—use it for good. We often worry about our kids spending too much time sitting watching YouTube, but you can search together to find different types of activities that you can try out. Keep going. Don’t be discouraged if you run into barriers—the key is to just keep trying new things to find a habit that works and find ways to enjoy being active in your daily life.



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