Childhood Cancer: The Risks After the Cure

Professor Mary Ann Cantrell, PhD, RN, CNE

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“Cancer survivorship is a significant issue for the health of our nation. These survivors are a known high-risk population for chronic health problems that adversely affect their health status and health-related quality of life,” says Dr. Mary Ann Cantrell, whose research includes pedagogical studies on clinical simulation. With her is Nursing senior Stephanie Luff, a childhood cancer survivor and research study participant. Stephanie holds a photo taken while she was undergoing treatment for leukemia; she and her father are playing with a toy stethoscope.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1 through 14. Significant improvements in the management of pediatric  oncology patients have dramatically improved survival rates, resulting in a rapidly expanding population of former patients who live to become adults—an estimated 1 out of 250 adults. While the reported cure rate of pediatric cancer is almost 80 percent, one major concern is that these former patients are not fully healed—physically or  psychologically. Dr. Mary Ann Cantrell wants to change that.

For the past 20 years, Dr. Cantrell has been conducting research on the improvement of care and health outcomes for pediatric oncology patients. With extensive experience in qualitative and quantitative research and more than 15 years’ clinical practice in pediatric oncology nursing, she has witnessed both the short- and long-term effects of cancer diagnoses on patients and families during and after treatment. Her research operationalizes recommendations in the Institute of Medicine’s report, “Childhood Cancer Survivorship: Improving Care and Quality of Life.” She is improving outcomes for these survivors, a group known to be at-risk for poor physical and psychosocial health outcomes. Her findings also have helped to improve nursing practice by explicating the psychosocial care needs for these patients.

Dr. Cantrell’s science has further evolved into the empirical investigation of female survivors’ health-related quality of life through the use and development of online research methods.