Educational Difficulties Associated with Illness or Treatment
Treatments for cancer during childhood or adolescence can affect educational progress due to prolonged absences or reduced energy levels. In addition, some types of cancer may require therapy to control or prevent spread of the disease to the brain or spinal cord (central nervous system). This therapy can sometimes affect learning abilities. Parents and teachers should be aware of potential educational problems that may be related to cancer treatment so that children and teens at risk can be monitored closely and given extra help if needed.
Types of Educational Difficulties that May Be Experienced
The brain is a complex structure that continues to grow and develop throughout childhood and adolescence. Some problems may not become apparent until years after therapy is completed. Common problem areas include:
- Attention span
- Processing speed
- Social situations, especially with children who are not aware of a child’s cancer
Factors that May Place Children and Teens at Increased Risk for Difficulties in School Include:
- Diagnosis of cancer at a very young age
- Numerous or prolonged school absences
- A history of learning problems before being diagnosed with cancer
- Reduced energy level
- Cancer treatment that affects hearing or vision
- Physical disabilities resulting from treatment
- Cancer therapy that includes treatment to the central nervous system
Who is at Risk for Developing Educational Difficulties?
Children treated for brain tumors are the most likely to have received treatments such as surgery and cranial radiation therapy that may affect academic abilities. Since treatments vary widely, not everyone who was treated for a brain tumor is at increased risk.
Cranial radiation is sometimes given to children with cancers other than brain tumors, such as some leukemias. Total body radiation, which includes the brain, is a common treatment for children undergoing certain types of bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. Cranial radiation treatment, especially at high doses, is a risk factor for educational difficulties.
There is some evidence that children treated with chemotherapy directly to the brain, such as intrathecal methotrexate or triple intrathecal therapy regimens, may be at increased risk, although the likelihood is less than for a child with a brain tumor.