Yes. Because a child's body is still developing, the effects of radiation and chemotherapy, whether used directly to treat the disease or as part of the transplant, can cause long-term problems not faced by adult transplant patients. Cells that are growing rapidly are more prone to damage from these treatments. This damage can impair the body's ability to develop normally. Also, patients living a normal life span have a longer period of time to develop other late effects, such as secondary cancers, as compared to patients transplanted later in life.
Depending on the age of the child, different aspects of growth and development may be affected. Many children require supplemental growth hormone to continue to develop in height. Children who have not reached puberty at the time of treatment may require hormone supplements in order to develop secondary sexual characteristics. Very young children whose permanent teeth have not yet formed may have abnormal or absent secondary teeth. This problem can be treated with dental implants. Pediatric transplant patients also have a higher risk of endocrine problems such as diabetes and thyroid disease.
Studies have shown that even if a child doesn't have any respiratory symptoms, there may be significant impairment of lung function after a transplant. The risk varies depending on the type of conditioning regimen and other factors. Total body irradiation and certain medications may increase the risk of lung problems. Development of chronic graft-vs.-host disease also increases the risk of lung problems. Pediatric transplant patients over the age of six years should have lung function tested each year as part of their routine follow-up care.
Children who received irradiation to the head before a transplant can develop some learning disabilities after a transplant preparative regimen containing total body irradiation. However, children who have not received any irradiation except for the total body irradiation appear to not have learning disabilities. The risk of permanent problems with memory, concentration and speed of processing information may be greater when very young children have a transplant, because the brain is still developing at that age.
There are many ways to help a child with learning differences after transplant. Having information presented in multiple ways is very helpful. For example, to teach a child to tie a shoelace, you could explain how to do it, let them watch you do it, and then guide their hands while they do it. Also, be sure allow enough time for the child to complete a task rather than setting time limits. If your child is in school, work closely with the teachers to be sure they understand your child's needs.