This June, Fox Chase Cancer Center and Grand View Health are celebrating Cancer Survivorship Month.
A cancer survivor is defined as an individual who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis throughout his/her life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 14 million Americans with a previous cancer diagnosis are living in the United States. About two out of every three persons diagnosed with cancer are expected to live at least five years after diagnosis.
“It can be difficult to adjust to life after treatment,” notes Sarah Goodyear, M.D., medical oncologist at Alliance Cancer Specialists. “It’s important for survivors to learn the best ways to manage their health, stress and relationships.”
Survivorship, in fact, represents a key component on the continuum of cancer care. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has recommendations in place to help oncologists and primary care physicians develop a plan for follow-up of their patients after treatment and to promote healthy cancer survivorship. Guidelines cover nine distinct areas: anxiety and depression, anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity, cognitive function, healthy lifestyle behaviors, fatigue, immunizations and infections, pain, sexual function and sleep disorders.
“Improved outcomes after cancer therapy and cancer survivorship are clearly the result of advances in cancer prevention, early detection through screening, the availability of new treatments including targeted therapies, and the improved management of treatment side effects,” says Crystal S. Denlinger, M.D., medical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
“Active treatment does not signify the end of one’s cancer journey, however. Many cancer survivors need ongoing support to address their concerns regarding the effects of cancer.”
Whether patients return to their oncologist or primary care physician for follow-up care, it is important for both to understand the patient’s individualized survivorship care plan. This includes a summary of previous treatments with possible management recommendations for any lingering treatment effects and information on the risk for developing late effects or side effects that occur months or years after cancer treatment. It also includes a plan for recommended follow-up and preventive health strategies. Coordination of care between oncology specialists and primary care physicians is key to ensuring that all health needs are met.
In addition to physical challenges, which may include permanent side effects of treatment, the need for long-term medical follow-up and the possibility of second cancers, survivors face a host of issues. Emotionally, they may need to cope with fear of cancer recurrence as well as feelings of anger and sadness, which can lead to depression. Socially, the effects of one’s cancer experience can impact personal relationships with family, friends and co-workers. More practical issues, such as financial concerns and health insurance, may be equally as demanding.
There are many resources available to help guide cancer survivors. The National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship is dedicated to enhancing the length and quality of life of survivors, addressing their unique needs, and providing support for survivorship research. Many cancer centers conduct survivorship research and offer specialized clinics to provide care and services to cancer survivors. Community organizations, such as LIVESTRONG and the American Cancer Society, offer information and resources on survivorship. Many community foundations are also dedicated to survivorship efforts within specific cancer types.