Back in the 1975, the movie Jaws came out right before the summer season began. The movie posters showed the gaping open mouth of a Great White shark with a clueless swimmer directly north of it’s nose. The tag line in the television commercials advertising the film had a deep, ominous voice that said, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” A lot of people never dipped a toe in the ocean that summer!
Survivors of childhood cancers may feel the same foreboding feeling after a study published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases demonstrated a link between childhood cancers and autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome (where white blood cells attack the glands that produce moisture) and sarcoidosis (which mainly affects the lungs and lymph nodes).
The reason for this increased risk is two-fold: radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
It is suspected that these treatments can cause the patient to produce autoantibodies and open the door for an autoimmune reaction.
Where curing a child of his or her cancer was formerly the main intent of treatment, the future health needs of childhood cancer survivors must now be considered, and the long-term benefits and risks of treatment should be mapped out, ideally, before treatment begins.
Research, however, is ongoing, and there is no definitive answer.