Cancer survivors who got radiation treatments as children have nearly twice the risk of developing diabetes as adults. Thatâ€™s according to a study led by Emory and Childrenâ€™s Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric oncologist Lillian R. Meacham, MD.
The study, published in the August 10/24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, compared rates of diabetes in nearly 8,600 childhood cancer survivors diagnosed between 1970 and 1986, and nearly 3,000 of their siblings who did not have cancer.
Children who were treated with total body radiation or abdominal radiation to fight off cancer appear to have higher diabetes risks later in life, regardless of whether they exercise regularly or maintain a normal weight.
After adjusting for other risk factors, including body mass index – a ratio of height and weight – Meacham and team found that childhood cancer survivors overall were 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes.
And the more radiation that was used, the greater the diabetes risk. For those treated with total body radiation — a treatment often used before bone marrow transplants to treat childhood leukemia — the diabetes risk was more than seven times greater.
More study is needed to understand how radiation could promote diabetes in cancer survivors, notes Meacham.
She says it is imperative that clinicians recognize this risk, screen for diabetes and pre-diabetes when appropriate, and approach survivors with aggressive risk-reducing strategies.
Meacham is a professor of pediatrics in the Emory School of Medicine and medical director of the Cancer Survivor Program with the AFLAC Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Services, Childrenâ€™s Healthcare of Atlanta.