Helping Cancer Survivors Grow Up
Reported December 2005
MIAMI (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Childhood cancer survivors are living longer. Great improvements in treatments are to thank, but many of these drugs cause weakened hearts and make survivors more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
At 5'7", 16-year-old Erik Aguirre's is a natural on the court. But when he was 3, mom Kathy didn't think Erik would live to ever dribble a ball. He was diagnosed with several medical problems, including a rare and fatal type of cancer. "I just couldn't believe that was happening to Erik," Kathy Crisci, Erik's mom, says.
Surgery, radiation and chemo saved Erik, but the cancer drugs made him, like many survivors deficient of growth hormone. It's a substance our bodies naturally produce. Growth hormone injections have helped Erik and other patients develop more normally. Now, results from a 10-year study of cancer survivors show it's also helping their hearts.
Certain chemo drugs destroy heart muscle cells -- making kids' hearts too small. Steven Lipshultz, M.D., from the University of Miami School of Medicine in Fla., says, "You are, in essence, creating a heart-attack-type model in a 4-year-old."
Pediatric cardiologists have found growth hormone is the first therapy shown to reverse that damage. Before kids started treatment, their heart walls were very thin. Within weeks of starting it, the walls became thicker, and their heart mass eventually became much closer to normal.
Erik's been cancer-free for 13 years and is now a big kid with an even bigger heart.
When kids in the study were taken off growth hormone, their heart muscle was reduced to what it had been before. The findings may be applied to help the millions of other people lacking heart muscle and die prematurely of cardiovascular disease.
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