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surviving childhood cancer is just the start for leading a normal life

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people in Ireland are long-term survivors of childhood or adolescence cancer.

In the past few days hundreds of people attended the first ever European conference on Survivorship After Cancer In Childhood And Adolescence in Croke Park, Dublin.

The event was the first gathering of its kind to include medical practitioners, as well as former cancer patients and their families.

The number of cases of childhood cancers has slowly increased year after year, but so have survival rates. Survivors currently number around one-in-750 people.

The groundbreaking conference sought to address issues of importance to this brave group.

Speaking at the event, Dr Michael Capra of Our Lady's Children's Hospital remarked treating a child with high levels of radiation can have dramatic effects on their intellectual abilities.

Dr Capra noted that around 75pc of childhood or adolescent cancer survivors who were treated with high levels of radiation had an IQ level lower than 80 -- compared to an average of 100 -- 10 years after the end of their therapy.

While the consequences of treatment are not always so dire, about three quarters of these survivors experienced some long-term complications, according to recent studies.


These complications can include second cancers -- especially in the case of smokers -- and cardiac diseases, as well as infertility, early menopause and liver, kidney and bone problems.

While the late side-affects of cancer was a great source of worry for those at the conference, the gap in services for adolescents and young people was also highlighted.

Members of CanTeen, a group for young people in Ireland aged 12 to 25 who have or have had cancer, remarked that teen cancer patients often felt just as isolated in children's wards as they did in adult wards.

CanTeen committee member Liam Quinn spoke of his own experience.

"When I was 15, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"I was at that awkward age where I was too old for the children's hospital but too young for the adult one," he said.

"It was put to me at the time that the reason why they wanted me to go to an adult ward was that I wouldn't have fit in the children's beds, I was over 6ft tall at the time.

"As an adolescent, you just don't fit in and I was lucky at the time that a CanTeen volunteer got me to join because the nearest person my age on the ward who I could talk to was 61."


Children's nurse Alexandra Brownsdon, who suffered from cancer herself, recognised the need for a similar network for young people who reached the age of 25.

Last year, she launched SurvivorNet.org to help people in this situation. She believes young cancer patients need practical information for their unique position.

Survivors Lindsey Sweetman and Kolm Mooney (see panels) want to move abroad to pursue their interests. Both of them will require special health insurance to ensure that they can continue to have regular check ups and that they may be flown to Ireland should any problem occur.

Eventually, they may wish to opt into a life insurance plan or get a mortgage and they will also certainly require guidance to avoid facing too many premiums because of the risk associated to their conditions.

As cancer survivors get older, the problems they face start to resemble that of every other adults, except their condition is always a factor in the equation.