Cancer Survivorship: The Next Stage

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By: Lana Maciel, Staff writer

For years, doctors and researchers have spent time and energy working toward the common goal of treating and preventing cancer. Thanks to their efforts, cancer survivorship is on the rise, with more than 11.1 million survivors in the United States today.

Five-year survival rates among adults are also increasing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, 66.4% of adults diagnosed with cancer can expect to be alive in five years, compared to 64% in 2008. Children have an even higher survival rate, ranging between 70% and 92%.

To recognize these growing numbers, a celebration of life will be observed in hundreds of communities worldwide on National Cancer Survivors Day, June 6. At MD Anderson, the entire week of June 7-10 will be dedicated to this celebration.

As more and more patients win the battle against cancer, the emerging field of survivorship has become a welcome challenge that aims at finding ways to help patients regain a sense of well-being after treatment.

Life after cancer

Survivorship is a stage in the continuum of cancer care. Its focus is to prepare patients for the adjustments that come with life after cancer treatment.

Such adjustments include the physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial effects of the cancer experience. This transitional stage will differ for every patient. Many go into long-term remission, while others may live with a chronic disease that requires periodic treatments.

Many survivors report that they have happily returned to living a normal life, and the physical impact of cancer is minimal. For others, side effects may still be present. Fatigue, osteoporosis, increased risk for other cancers, anxiety, emotional trauma and changes in sexuality are some of the most common side effects experienced by patients.

Of course, survivors will always live with the possibility of recurrence. Some cancer treatments may also cause other health problems that require continuing surveillance and regular visits to the doctor. But no matter what each person may experience, the care and support of family, friends and physicians will be important.

Developing a plan for survivorship

To address the needs and concerns of cancer survivors, MD Anderson has expanded its survivorship program to seven clinics, which include:

More clinics focusing on other cancer types are being opened, including a Colorectal Survivorship Clinic and a Lymphoma Survivorship Clinic scheduled for later this year.

At each of these clinics, survivors may have their annual check-ups, or they may learn more about how to cope with any effects that continue in the years after treatment. Specialized health care providers monitor patients' conditions and help them develop a plan for ongoing health care. This includes the kinds of screenings or medical tests they will need, as well as frequency of follow-up visits for future care. Opportunities for counseling, support groups and further education on post-treatment-related topics are also available in these clinics.

Though each clinic focuses on a specific cancer type or treatment, they are all designed to:

  • Review a patient's medical history and perform a physical examination
  • Monitor for signs of cancer recurrence or progression
  • Identify, prevent and control any late side effects or symptoms from treatment
  • Develop a treatment summary and specific follow-up care plan
  • Provide educational materials related to:
    • Cancer screening examinations
    • Health behaviors that reduce cancer risk
    • Survivorship resources at MD Anderson or within the community
  • Provide a Passport Plan for Health for survivors returning to community physicians

Communication is key
A patient's journey beyond cancer is one of continued education and communication. Health care teams are available to address any questions or concerns a patient may have about the survivorship phase.

The key for maintaining a sense of well-being and a positive quality of life is to keep the lines of communication open between survivor and provider. The more one learns about what to expect after treatment has ended, the better prepared he or she will be in handling what lies ahead in the journey after cancer.

To learn more about cancer survivorship, visit the following websites:

MD Anderson Cancer Survivorship

AARP Journey of Cancer Survivorship

U.S. News: Surviving and Living with Cancer

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