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6 Concerns and Side Effects Children Cite for Refusing Chemotherapy Treatment

By    |   Friday, 10 Jul 2015 11:07 AM

Families of children battling cancer have sometimes refused chemotherapy and radiation treatment, citing concerns about side effects that devastate the child while the treatments are ongoing and might outlast the treatments and affect the child's long-term quality of life.

Here are some of the most frequent concerns, general and specific, raised by minors and families dealing with cancer and its treatment.

1. It's poison.
Cassandra Callender, a 17-year-old cancer patient from Connecticut who fled treatment, said chemotherapy drugs were "poison," NBC News reported, and she did not want them in her body, although the state eventually won a court ruling in January 2015 compelling her to continue chemotherapy treatments.

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Cancer patient and blogger Jen Kalaidis, 26, objected to Callender's word choice in a February 2015 post:

"So, with chemotherapy as the most effective current method of treatment (and one that is directly responsible for saving thousands of lives each year) I have now declared a moratorium on calling it 'poison' — even when I’m kidding around," Kalaidis wrote. "Instead, I've embraced what chemotherapy really is: a crucial, life-saving medicine that I am thankful to be receiving, even if I totally hate it as it’s flowing through my veins.”

2. It's worse than the disease.
"I truly believe that this massive dose of chemo and radiation would finish me off completely," a Virginia high-schooler, Starchild Abraham Cherrix, told The Washington Post in 2006, explaining his court fight against the state.

"The Virginia boy's 15-year-old body was exhausted, his 6-foot frame down to 122 pounds, his hair falling out and his stomach ravaged," the Post reported. Virginia legislators rallied to Cherrix and passed "Abraham's Law" in 2007, lowering to 14 the age at which a minor could legally challenge treatment.

The American Cancer Society says in its online literature on chemotherapy's side effects that "because these drugs travel throughout the body, they can affect normal, healthy cells that are fast-growing, too."

3. It's harder on kids.
Worries about aggressive cancer treatments on smaller, developing brains and bodies have a basis in fact: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledges that treating young cancer patients with chemotherapy and radiation "can cause unwanted side effects and other problems during and after treatment" and that some of these side effects "cause more harm to children than they do to adults."

At the same time, the NIH's National Cancer Institute reports that, "In general, treatments for childhood cancer use higher doses of chemotherapy and radiation than is used for adults," and that children are able to absorb "more intense treatment (higher doses given over a shorter time) than adults can, before serious side effects occur."

The institute also reports, "Side effects vary from person to person, even among those receiving the same treatment. Some people have very few side effects while others have many."

4. Bones and internal organs.
Chemotherapy and radiation can have "long-term effects on the heart, kidneys and lungs, and there may be subtle changes in bone density," James Fahner, founder of the pediatric cancer and blood disorders program at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told The Grand Rapids Press in 2012.

The same article cited the experience of a 17-year-old cancer survivor, Jacob Jager: "Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone, on Sept. 29, 2011, Jacob, a junior at Grand Haven High School, has had 'limb salvage' surgery to replace almost his entire knee, and titanium rods have replaced sections of bone above and below the knee."

A 2013 study of children in South Korea concluded, "Survivors of childhood and adolescent cancers are at risk for osteoporosis (or low bone mass for chronologic age) during and after completion of therapy."

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5. Immunity to disease. "Intensive chemotherapy in children with malignancies causes partial immune deficiency" and "a signifcant lowering of antibody levels" against viral diseases such as measles and mumps, but re-vaccination after cancer treatment brought most of these young patients — 77 out of 83 studied — back to normal immunity strength, according to a 2003 study.

6. Depression.
The parents of a Michigan 10-year-old, Jacob Stieler, clashed with the state in 2011 after removing their son from chemotherapy to treat a rare bone cancer. The parents said in court that while undergoing chemotherapy, Jacob told them he wanted to "fall asleep and never wake up," MLive reported.

The National Cancer Institute reports
that depression affects between 15 percent and 25 percent of all cancer patients.

The institute has not posted figures comparing the rate of depression in pediatric versus adult cancer patients. But a 2001 study of children in Turkey ages 9-13 found that depression occurred more frequently among those who had suffered from cancer than those who had not.

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Families of children battling cancer have sometimes refused chemotherapy and radiation treatment, citing concerns about side effects that devastate the child while the treatments are ongoing and might outlast the treatments and affect the child's long-term quality of life.
children, chemotherapy, concerns
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2015-07-10
Friday, 10 Jul 2015 11:07 AM
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