Cancer that develops as a result of cancer treatment is known as a secondary malignancy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be carcinogenic (cancer causing). It may occur months or even years after treatment for a primary cancer. These secondary cancers occur as side effects to the initial cancer treatment and is most common with certain chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy for certain cancers such as childhood leukemia, and in patients receiving both radiation and chemotherapy, instead of either one therapy. Most secondary malignancies are skin cancers which can be easily treated if detected early, but can also be more serious and even fatal if left unchecked.
Screening for secondary malignancies should be done annually in patients who are at high risk of developing them to facilitate early diagnosis and a successful outcome. Secondary malignancies are treated similarly with radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Secondary cancers can be prevented by recognizing the risks of your particular cancer treatment, avoiding high-risk therapy and tailoring primary treatment to be less intensive.