Cardiovascular health and fitness after childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

The last few decades have turned childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) from a virtually incurable disease to a disease with 80–90% survival rates. However, this has not come without a cost. Various late effects of the treatment are nowadays well acknowledged, and the survivors have increased cardiovascular (CV) morbidity and mortality. While the treatment of ALL may have direct toxic effects on various organ systems, lifestyle factors affect the CV risk of the survivors as well.

Data on CV health and fitness after treatment with common Nordic protocols since 1986 has been scarce. This thesis aimed to study CV health and fitness and the effects of a 3-month exercise intervention in 16–30-year-old long-term survivors of childhood ALL.

Fitness was poor especially in female survivors. One third reported ≤1h of moderate physical activity (PA) weekly. While the levels of other CV risk factors were similar in survivors and controls, attenuations in vascular endothelium and cardiac function were found when using advanced echocardiographic methods. The exercise programme improved fitness, insulin resistance, endothelial function as well as measures of cardiac function.

While the results do not allow definite conclusions on whether the subclinical signs of cardiac and vascular endothelial dysfunction are due to the treatment of ALL or sedentary lifestyle/poor fitness after treatment, the results are interesting and emphasize the effects of PA in this population. The results indicate beneficial effects of PA on the heart health in ALL survivors and suggest that they should be encouraged to physically active lifestyle.


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City (for University):
University of Turku