Childhood Cancer Survivors Show Sustained Benefit From Common ADHD Medication
Trial led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital investigators finds medication restores sustained attention of many young survivors; work begins on new strategies to help survivors cope with this common challenge
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Sept. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A medicine
widely used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) also provides long-term relief from the attention and
behavior changes that affect many childhood cancer survivors,
according to a multicenter trial led by St. Jude Children's
Research Hospital investigators.
Researchers reported that one year after starting the drug
methylphenidate, young cancer survivors scored better on tests of
sustained attention and other measures of attention, social skills
and behavior than did a similar group of unmedicated survivors.
While taking methylphenidate, scores on the attention and behavior
measures of many survivors returned to normal ranges.
Methylphenidate is marketed under several brand names, including
Ritalin and Concerta. The study is the first to document that some
survivors enjoy long-term benefits from its use.
Coupled with results from earlier medication side effects
studies, the study's authors said these findings offer hope and
reassurance for survivors, their families and others looking for
ways to ease such late effects of cancer and its treatment. The
work appears in the September 13 online edition of the Journal of
"We found that methylphenidate improves both attention and
social skills and that these benefits are maintained," said Heather
Conklin, Ph.D., assistant member of the St. Jude Department of
Psychology and the study's first author. "Although the drug did not
lead to a significant gain in measured academic skills, many
parents reported their children's grades improved because the
children did a better job of managing tasks like planning ahead for
projects or remembering to complete and turn in assignments."
The results come as the growing ranks of childhood cancer
survivors have the pediatric cancer community searching for better
ways to ease or even prevent treatment late effects.
Conklin said the findings also underscore the need for
non-pharmacological approaches. Earlier research from Conklin and
her colleagues found only about half of young cancer survivors
benefit from methylphenidate. Also, Conklin said many parents are
reluctant to use the drug and some survivors may not be good
candidates due to medical or other reasons. "We are moving forward
with research into new strategies to benefit more survivors and
their families," she said.
This study focused on young survivors of brain tumors and acute
lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Their cancer treatment included
surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy targeting the central
nervous system. Those treatments and other factors, including a
patient's age at treatment, are linked to risk of later attention,
memory and processing speed problems that make learning difficult.
Such troubles can reverberate through life and affect a survivor's
ability to hold a job and live independently.
Although methylphenidate has been used successfully for decades
to treat ADHD in healthy children, Conklin said that was no
guarantee the drug would benefit children whose symptoms followed a
cancer diagnosis. Excluded from this study were children who had
ADHD before their cancer was found.
After a year of methylphenidate, young cancer survivors scored
better on tests of sustained attention. Parent, teacher and
survivor ratings of attention all improved. Parental ratings of
social skills and behavior problems also documented that survivors
had benefited. The group included 35 brain tumor and 33 ALL
In contrast, only parental ratings of attention and social
skills improved during the same period for a similar group of
survivors not taking medication. The group included 31 brain tumor
and 23 ALL survivors.
Academic skills measured by completion of math, reading and
spelling problems were not significantly better in either group.
Conklin said that might reflect the study design, which did not
assess changes in executive aspects of school performance,
including organization and planning.
The other authors of this paper are Wilburn Reddick, Jason
Ashford, Susan Ogg, Scott Howard, Robbin Christensen, Shengjie Wu,
Xiaoping Xiong (St. Jude); E. Brannon Morris (Athens, Ga.); Ronald
Brown (Temple University); Melanie Bonner (Duke University) and
Raja Khan (Semmes-Murphey Institute, Memphis).
This work was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute
St. Jude Children's Research HospitalSt. Jude Children's
Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering
research and treatment of children with cancer and other
catastrophic diseases. Ranked the No. 1 pediatric cancer hospital
by Parents magazine and the No. 1 children's cancer hospital by
U.S. News & World Report, St. Jude is the first and only
National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
devoted solely to children. St. Jude has treated children from all
50 states and from around the world, serving as a trusted resource
for physicians and researchers. St. Jude has developed research
protocols that helped push overall survival rates for childhood
cancer from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened to almost
80 percent today. St. Jude is the national coordinating center for
the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium and the Childhood Cancer
Survivor Study. In addition to pediatric cancer research, St. Jude
is also a leader in sickle cell disease research and is a globally
prominent research center for influenza.
Founded in 1962 by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, St. Jude
freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical
communities around the world, publishing more research articles
than any other pediatric cancer research center in the United
States. St. Jude treats more than 5,700 patients each year and is
the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay
for treatment not covered by insurance. St. Jude is financially
supported by thousands of individual donors, organizations and
corporations without which the hospital's work would not be
possible. In 2010, St. Jude was ranked the most trusted charity in
the nation in a public survey conducted by Harris Interactive, a
highly respected international polling and research firm. For more
information, go to www.stjude.org.
Source: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
CONTACT: Summer Freeman, (desk) +1-901-595-3061, (cell)
firstname.lastname@example.org, or Carrie Strehlau, (desk) +1-901-595-2295, (cell)
+1-901-297-9875, email@example.com, both of St. Jude
Web Site: http://www.stjude.org/
Posted: September 2010