Study: Childhood cancer survivors a ‘sensitive group’ on bad air days

SALT LAKE CITY — We call them “sensitive groups” every time the particulate levels start to spike during winter inversion in Utah’s populated valleys.

They include children, adults and elderly people with respiratory conditions.

Now a new study from the Huntsman Cancer Institute provides powerful evidence of another group that needs to be on the list: survivors of cancer who were diagnosed as children.

Dr. Judy Ou, an epidemiologist working at HCI was the primary author of the study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

“I did not expect to see the results that we were able to show in the paper we published,” said Ou.

Ou’s research looked and more than 3,800 survivors of childhood cancer whose information was available in the “Utah Population Database,” and found twice the expected occurrence of emergency department visits for respiratory issues among the population of survivors, with an especially high rate for those whose cancer treatment includes chemotherapy.

Dr. Douglas Fair, a Pediatric Oncologist, says the research is important, especially as medicine has allowed far more patients to survive.

“In the 1960's the cure rate for childhood cancer was less than 50 percent, and fortunately with advances in medicine and science it's somewhere close to 83 percent now,” said Fair.

The study of air pollution focused specifically on emergency visits when particulate pollution known as PM 2.5 was elevated.

Surprisingly to Ou, the study also showed cancer survivors reporting respiratory issues when particulate levels had not reached the common threshold that signals a health warning for “sensitive groups.”

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