Air pollution poses risk for childhood cancer survivors

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – When we talk about sensitive groups need to be careful during bad air days, the Huntsman Cancer Insitute and the University of Utah say we should be adding cancer survivors to the mix.

Researchers at Huntsman and the U found poor air quality days significantly increase the risk of hospitalization for respiratory problems in young cancer survivors.

The team at Huntsman looked at nearly 4,000 people who had cancer under the age of 25 and treated at Primary Children’s Hospital over a 26-year time span.  

“Our study was the first to look at long term survivors of pediatric adolescent and young adults cancer. This is a group that has decades of life ahead of them so we wanted to look at that younger population,” said Anne Kirchhoff, Ph.D., MPH, HCI Researcher.
 
Researchers tracked when and how often these patients required emergency care for breathing problems. They found children who had chemotherapy treatment are two times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory issues on bad air days compared to cancer-free patients.

“Researchers as young as 3 years old were the most vulnerable after treatment,” said Judy Ou, PhD, HCI. 

“Respiratory illness will present itself with cough, trouble breathing, shortness of breath,” said Dr. Douglas Fair, University of Utah School of Medicine and Primary Children’s Hospital.

Researchers say the number of cancer survivors is growing. Huntsman says there are 16 million cancer survivors in the U.S. and of those, 400,000 are children.

“My research program is focused on strategies to improve the health of cancer patients through the duration of their life. This does say we should be cautious going outside during days of high pollution who are at added risk such as people who have had chemotherapy. It’s not a message to worry a huge amount. But talk to your health care provider,” said Kirchoff. 

Researchers say the same type of precautions given to asthma and heart patients need to be applied to cancer survivors such as limiting outdoor activities. 

Researchers hope their findings will bring more awareness to lawmakers, health organizations, patients and doctors. More research is expected to be done such as looking at an older population of cancer survivors.

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