How Late Effects Of Cancer Treatment Can Affect Your Student's Learning

How Late Effects Of Cancer Treatment Can Affect Your Student's Learning

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy will damage normal cells as well as cancerous ones. Some children will recover all function completely, but others may have difficulties.


Key points to remember about how late effects can affect your student's learning

  • some cancer treatments can cause health problems that may not happen until many years after treatment has finished
  • these health problems are often called 'late effects'
  • parents need to be aware that cancer treatment may have long-term effects on their child's learning
  • some children will recover all function completely, but others may have difficulties
  • teachers need to be aware that cancer treatment can have late effects on your student's learning

Boy drawing a picture

How will cancer treatment affect my student?

The kind of side effects your student has will depend on the type of cancer they have and the treatment they receive. Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy damage normal cells as well as cancerous ones. In many cases, side effects are temporary, but for some children, there can be long-term physical effects or 'late effects'.

What is cranial irradiation and how could it affect my student with cancer?

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 shown significant declines in cognitive ability.

Specific issues can include problems with:

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

Nonverbal skills such as abstract reasoning, visual-spatial skills and mathematics are especially vulnerable to cranial irradiation and intrathecal chemotherapy.

Read about the Late Effects Assessment Programme (LEAP)

What are some of the common learning difficulties after cranial irradiation?

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 retention of material

Children who have had cranial irradiation treatment may benefit from neuropsychological evaluation. Often the learning difficulties can increase over time. Good assessment and appropriate intervention can help minimise any effect on your student's ability to learn.

Can my student's cancer treatment cause any other physical problems?

Cancer treatments can cause a number of physical health problems including:

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

It is important that you let your student's parents know if you notice anything out of the ordinary that is ongoing.

Find out more about treatments for childhood cancer.

How might my student be psychologically affected after cancer treatment?

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/whānau.

Research has shown that survivors of childhood cancer are at substantially greater psychological risk than survivors of other chronic but non-life-threatening illnesses.1

Siblings of children with cancer are also at increased risk of psychological problems. See Brothers and sisters of a student who has cancer.

See more information for educators

See more information for whānau


1Cancer Care for the whole patient: Meeting psychosocial health needs - Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Psychosocial Services to Cancer Patients/Families in a Community Setting; Adler NE, Page AEK, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2008.


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 12 May 2022.

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