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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Cancer: University of Chicago Childhood Cancer Survivors Center

In the not too distant past, children who were diagnosed with cancer had a slim chance of surviving the disease. Now, more than 70 percent of patients survive childhood cancers. Unfortunately, these survivors may have complex and long-term health issues due to their treatment plans.

In order to address the very specific needs of these patients, we created the University of Chicago Childhood Cancer Survivors Center. This is an integrated program for pediatric and adult survivors of childhood cancer aimed at the prevention and treatment of long-term issues associated with cancer therapy.

Our Patients

We accept patients of any age who were diagnosed and treated with cancer before the age of 21. Patients must be at least two years off any prior cancer therapy.

Our Services

Some of the health problems cancer survivors may have include:

  • Heart problems, including early congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, and heart attacks
  • Endocrine disorders, including thyroid dysfunction, obesity, growth delay, premature menopause, and osteoporosis
  • Renal problems
  • Dental problems
  • Fertility issues
  • Secondary cancers or recurrent cancer
  • Social and psychological concerns

At the first clinic visit, our experts will complete a thorough medical history and physical exam, which can include compiling a list of previous treatments as well as screenings for conditions common among childhood cancer survivors. Read more about your first clinic visit.

In addition to treating patients for current conditions, we want to address their risk of secondary cancers and other late effects of therapy. For example, women who have had radiation therapy before age 30 have an increased lifetime risk of contracting breast cancer. We know that these women need to be screened for breast cancer earlier than women who have not had radiation therapy. As part of the clinic visits, we will create a screening schedule for the cancer survivor and his or her primary care physician, if needed.

We will also screen for common endocrine and cardiac risks after cancer therapy, such as examining thyroid function for patients who received any radiation to the neck. We will evaluate the patient's heart by ultrasound (echocardiogram) to determine if he or she has early signs of heart disease. In addition, we can determine if patients are at risk for kidney dysfunction.

Our goal is to educate survivors and their families about these health issues. We work closely with a patient's primary care giver and other specialists to ensure that a patient is receiving the best care possible. Together, our team of experts will discuss each patient. From this discussion, we will develop an individualized set of recommendations for health maintenance and late effects screening. In addition to discussing our recommendations with the patient, we will send our treatment summary, evaluation, and recommendations the patient's primary care physician.

Our experts are also committed to treating not just the body, but also the mind. As part of the University of Chicago Medicine, we have access to health professionals that can help you and your child deal with the emotional aspect of surviving cancer.

Because there are higher genetic risk factors for some childhood cancers, we can refer you and your family to our Familial Cancer Clinic for further evaluation. At this clinic, we can help determine the risk of cancer in other members of your family. Learn more about the Familial Cancer Clinic.

Team of Experts

We provide comprehensive care for our patients by involving experts from across several disciplines. Our team includes the following:

  • Developmental pediatrician
  • Neuropsychologist
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Pediatric cardiologist
  • Pediatric endocrinologist
  • Pediatric oncologist
  • Radiation oncologist who is an expert in pediatric cancers
  • Reproductive endocrinologist specializing in fertility preservation and infertility in cancer patients
  • Social worker

The director of our program, Tara Henderson, MD, MPH, was trained by one of the pioneers in childhood cancer survivor issues. She completed her education at one of the foremost programs in the country. In addition, our reproductive endocrinologist is one of the national leaders in fertility and fertility preservation for children and adolescents with cancer.

Ongoing Research

We not only want to treat cancer survivors today, but we also want to improve the health of future survivors. To this end, we are currently involved in national studies examining current treatment to prevent late effects through the Children’s Oncology Group. Our physicians have privileged access to study the largest national cohort of childhood cancer survivors, the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study, and we are developing local studies to examine and improve the health of our own survivors.

Dr. Henderson is the primary investigator in several on-going studies with the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. She is interested in understanding and characterizing second cancers (breast cancers and sarcomas) in childhood cancer survivors in order to identify survivors who are most at risk and develop early screening regimens for these patients.