Utilization of special education services and educational attainment among long-term survivors of childhood cancer: a report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study

Cancer. 2003 Feb 15;97(4):1115-26. doi: 10.1002/cncr.11117.


Background: The objective of the current report was to compare the self-reported rates of special education (SE) and educational attainment among specific groups of childhood cancer survivors and a random sample of sibling controls.

Methods: The Childhood Cancer Survivor Study is a retrospective cohort of individuals who were diagnosed with a cancer in childhood and survived at least 5 years postdiagnosis. This analysis includes 12,430 survivors and 3410 full siblings. Reported use of SE services and educational attainment were analyzed within subgroups defined by type of cancer, age at diagnosis, and type of treatment.

Results: The use of SE services was reported in 23% of survivors and 8% of siblings, with the greatest differences observed among survivors who were diagnosed before age 6 years, most notably survivors of central nervous system (CNS) tumors (odds ratio [OR], 18.8; 95% confidence interval [95%CI], 15.01-23.49), leukemia (OR, 4.4; 95%CI, 3.75-5.16), and Hodgkin disease (OR, 4.4; 95%CI, 2.64-7.24). It was found that intrathecal methotrexate (IT MTX) and cranial radiation (CRT), administered alone or in combination, significantly increased the likelihood that a survivor would use SE (IT MTX only: OR, 1.3; 95%CI, 1.09-1.78; CRT only: OR, 7.2; 95%CI, 6.14-8.39; IT MTX and CRT combined: OR, 2.6; 95%CI, 2.30-2.95). A positive dose response was identified between higher doses of CRT and use of SE. It was determined that survivors of leukemia (OR, 1.6; 95%CI, 1.23-2.16), CNS tumors (OR, 2.7; 95%CI, 1.92-3.81), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (OR, 1.8; 95%CI, 1.15-2.78), and neuroblastoma (OR, 1.7; 95%CI, 1.14-2.61) were significantly less likely to finish high school compared with siblings; however, when survivors received SE services, risk estimates approximated those of the sibling SE population.

Conclusions: Children who are diagnosed with cancer should be followed closely during and after treatment to identify early signs of learning disabilities and to maximize intervention strategies for the successful completion of scholastic goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Education, Special*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors*