Childhood Cancer Linked To Developmental Delays

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as published online in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology reveals a link between childhood cancers and delays in language and motor development.

Researchers evaluated the cognitive and emotional development of 61 children between the ages of 6 months and 3.5 years old who were being treated for tumors or cancers of the blood at the time of the study. The children had had an average of three months of treatment at the time of the evaluation.

To determine any developmental delays, researchers conducted tests that focused on language skills, cognitive abilities,gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.

Compared to children not undergoing treatment for cancer, the children in the study scored about 7 points below average on tests of mental development and 14 points below average on motor skills tests. Such delays in reaching childhood milestones typically occur within months of beginning cancer treatments.

Differences in social and emotional development between the two groups of children were not found in the study.

As Marc H. Bornstein, Ph.D., head of Child and Family Research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), explains:

In the early years, when children go through such tremendous growth, they arguably are more sensitive to biological and environmental influences than adults are.

Diane L. Putnick, Ph.D., of the University of Padova in Italy, summarizes:

We’ve demonstrated that the impact of the disease and its treatment can appear early on. It suggests that the earlier health care providers start addressing these concerns, the better.

In other words, children undergoing treatment for cancers should be watched closely for late or missed developmental milestones so that interventions can be instituted as early as possible.

Do you think the results of this study will have a positive impact on the ways in which child cancer patients are treated?