We often discuss the late effects of cancer treatment, those that become evident after therapy ends, on this blog. One reproductive late effect of treatment is premature menopause, which can be caused by chemotherapy or radiation damage to the ovaries. Even women who continue to have normal periods throughout cancer treatment may experience a shortened period of fertility and enter menopause as early as their 20s. But late effects of cancer treatment vary considerably and can include surgical problems, secondary cancers, and cognitive difficulties.
Last week, the cancer community was dismayed to learn that Matthew Zachary, the Founder of I’m Too Young For This! and a 15-year brain cancer survivor suffered a stroke as a result of radiation therapy. The symptoms of the transient ischemic attack (TIA) seem to have been temporary and Zachary will be going through a series of detailed tests this week with his neurologists. Since the radiation in 1996, Zachary has experienced a series of late effects and, fortunately, all of them have been temporary.
The episode raises a serious issue in cancer survivorship that affects all of us. Even when fertility needs are covered (Zachary is the proud father of 9-month-old twins), survivors of pediatric, adolescent, and young adult cancers carry additional side effects of treatment with them for the rest of their lives. As survival rates continue to increase, more research efforts are needed to address quality of life issues for those who’ve beaten cancer. What is the best way to increase research on the late effects of cancer treatment? Increased funding.