Sleep Problems Plague Child Cancer Survivors

Children who survive cancer as children are at greater risk of developing memory and cognition issues if they experience sleep or fatigue problems later in life. In a 16-year study on the long-term effects of childhood cancer and cancer treatments, researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital tracked 1,426 young cancer survivors and 384 of their healthy siblings. They found that childhood cancer survivors were more likely than their cancer-free siblings to suffer from impaired memory or cognition problems if they suffered bouts of sleeplessness or fatigue during maturation and into adulthood.

Children who were 6 years old or younger when their cancer was discovered and treated were found to be most at risk, particularly if their cancer treatment included chemotherapy, high-dose cranial irradiation, steroids or anti-metabolites. Neurocognitive problems were exhibited by 20% of the childhood cancer survivors studied. While researchers noted that childhood cancer did not appreciably increase the risk of developing chronic sleep problems, it did quadruple the risk that chronic sleep problems would result in the loss of memory or cognitive function.  Study findings are scheduled to be published in the journal Cancer

Establishing healthy bedtime routines that promote positive sleep habits when children are young can help children avoid chronic sleeplessness and the problems it can cause as they grow and mature.

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