How late effects from cancer treatment can affect your child's learning and development

How late effects from cancer treatment can affect your child's learning and development

Some children who have cancer treatment will have a harder time learning in school than their classmates.

Key points to remember

  • there may be long-term physical effects of childhood cancer and its treatment - some of these may develop well after treatment has finished
  • chemotherapy and radiotherapy will damage normal cells as well as cancerous ones
  • parents need to be aware that cancer treatment may have long-term effects on their child's learning

A boy with his head in his hand

This is part of a whole section on education when a child has cancer for parents. We also have a section for teachers.

All children respond differently to cancer treatment

The kind of side effects your child has will depend on the type of cancer they have and the treatment they receive. In many cases side effects are temporary, but for some children, there can be long-term physical effects or 'late effects'.

Late Effects Assessment Programme

The Late Effects Assessment Programme (LEAP) provides regular assessment and monitoring for all survivors of childhood cancer throughout New Zealand. Depending on where you live, your child may visit a dedicated LEAP clinic or see a specialist at your local hospital. Both types of clinics provide the same key follow-up care.

Your child may be asked about their thinking and learning (cognitive) ability, and if there are any concerns, a further assessment may happen. This is called a neuropsychological assessment. Talk to your child's healthcare team if you are concerned.

Issues from cranial irradiation

Cranial irradiation is a type of radiation therapy for brain tumours and some high-risk forms of leukaemia. It carries an increased risk of learning problems for children. Some children have issues with areas such as:

  • visual-motor skills
  • memory
  • attention span
  • motor skills

What are some of the common learning difficulties?

Common difficulties include problems with:

  • reading
  • spelling
  • handwriting (unable to write accurately or quickly)
  • mathematics with concepts requiring short-term memory such as times tables
  • attention span or concentration - children may become hyperactive or inattentive
  • short-term memory-storage of new information and learning difficulties

If your child has had cranial irradiation treatment, they may  benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation. Your child may need another evaluation to check whether their learning problems have changed over time. Good assessment and appropriate intervention will help minimise the impact on your child's ability to learn.

Other physical problems

There may be long-term physical effects of childhood cancer and its treatment. Some of these may be found well after treatment has finished. They may include:

  • delayed growth and early or late puberty
  • hearing damage
  • infertility
  • heart damage
  • lung problems
  • dental problems
  • kidney problems
  • eye problems

Talk with your family doctor or your child's healthcare team if you are concerned.

Psychological effects

Survivors of childhood cancer may have a slightly increased risk of developing another cancer later in life. Learning to live with the worry of cancer returning (or developing another cancer) is another burden for these children and their families.

Survivors and siblings often need emotional support after treatment. Discuss any changes in behaviour with your child’s healthcare team during your clinic visits. Early assessment and intervention can help minimise any problems.

Organisations such as Kenzie's Gift, Child Cancer Foundation and CanTeen can also help with counselling support.

The pages in the childhood cancer and education section of this website have been developed in collaboration with the National Child Cancer Network (NZ), and the Ministry of Education. Content has been approved by the National Child Cancer Network (NZ).

This page last reviewed 20 August 2018.
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