Over the past 30 years, forward bounds in science and medicine have led to the recovery of an increasingly large number of people diagnosed with cancer, including children. However, with an increasing population of childhood cancer survivors, studying the potential long-term side effects of treatment on these children becomes very important. Dr. Donald Mabbott at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto most definitely supports this line of thought. Dr. Mabbott and his research team found that a group of children treated for medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer, displayed impaired aspects of learning and memory, as demonstrated by decreased scores on standardized neuropsychological tests. Most interestingly, these shortfalls were also associated with smaller brain areas responsible for these functions1. This has made apparent the need to refine treatment methods—particularly radiation targeting the brain—to reduce damage to the brains of children being treated. Changing the way treatment is administered will certainly help reduce negative long-term effects on brain function, but it is not the only thing that can be done.
This leads to the following question: is there anything else that we can do to prevent learning and memory deficits in children following cancer therapy? In the past few years, exercise has emerged as a promising candidate. In older adults, exercise has been shown to improve memory and increase the size of important brain regions2. Borrowing from this idea, Dr. Mabbott is concluding a study that examines the effect of exercise on childhood cancer survivors of brain tumours. The aim is to see if exercise can be used to help reduce deficits experienced by childhood cancer survivors due to cancer therapy. If exercise does improve the brain’s development and its functions, there is promise to use it to improve childhood cancer survivors’ quality of life.
Stayed tuned for more! And hey, maybe get outside and go for a nice brisk run today. Your brain will thank you!
This article was written by Logan Richard, a researcher with the Hospital For Sick Children. To find out more about Logan and his research check out our Members page.