Survivorship: a distinct phase of cancer care

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Thanks to public awareness, earlier detection and improved cancer treatments, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that nearly 12 million cancer survivors are living in the United States today. This number is estimated to increase to 19 million by the year 2020 as baby boomers enter their cancer-prone years.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NCI, 64% of adults diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be alive in five years. For children, survival rates range between 70% and 92%, depending on the type of cancer.

Who are cancer survivors? A cancer survivor is commonly defined as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis and treatment through the remaining years of life. The definition has been expanded to include people who have been affected by the diagnosis, such as family members and caregivers.

Within this definition are stages or phases of survivorship:

  • Living with cancer refers to the experience of receiving a cancer diagnosis and any treatment that may follow
  • Living through cancer is the period following treatment in which the risk of cancer recurring is relatively high
  • Living beyond cancer refers to post-treatment and long-term survivorship

Why is this important? As many survivors have learned, recovery is not always the end of the cancer experience. Even years after successful treatment, cancer recurrence is a possibility. Cancer therapies can leave health issues that require lifelong surveillance. Finally, recovering from the emotional, social, and economical trauma of cancer can take longer than recuperating from treatment.

To address the needs of our survivors, M. D. Anderson is developing survivorship as a distinct phase of cancer care. Providing the framework for the survivorship effort is our multidisciplinary, patient-centered care model, in which every patient benefits from a diverse team of cancer specialists participating in cancer treatment planning. We're using this platform for cancer care to lead, develop and implement an integrated, multidisciplinary survivorship program, easing the transition from illness to wellness.

As a cancer survivor, what are your biggest concerns or questions? Please take a few minutes to post your comments and I'll do my best to address them.

1 Comment

Since my adjuvant chemo was not completely successful, my clinical outlook is not as good as a BCS. The brca gene test is not covered by insurance; wondering if I should remove ovaries? Dad's side has significant cancer history but its all men except for grandmother who died of ovarian cancer.

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