U.S. Has Nearly 12 Million Cancer Survivors
Rising Number of Survivors Attributed to Improvements in Diagnosis, Treatment, and Follow-up Care
Open Discussion of the Cancer Experience
Mary McCabe, RN, director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Survivorship Program in New York City, says “no one wants to hear the word cancer in terms of them or anyone that they love, but many public figures have demonstrated that not only can you live past diagnosis and treatment period, but you can live well and successfully. We all know people who have been treated for cancer and they are more open about discussing their own experience.”
“We certainly need more work in diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, pancreas, and head and neck cancers,” she says. “These are areas where research is extremely important in improving diagnosis, survival, and the quality of that survival.”
“There has been an increasing focus on research on quality of care during treatment and afterward,” McCabe says.
Many of today’s cancer treatments are more palatable, she says. “We have so many more supportive care interventions including relaxation modalities and other types of therapies to help people through treatment.”
Better Understanding of Cancer Survival
“We need a formal plan about how to follow cancer survivors and not just for risk of recurrence and surveillance,” McCabe says. “We need to make sure we understand the late or long-term effects of their treatments so we can intervene and improve health.”
“There will be even greater numbers of survivors in the future and we need a better understanding of cancer survivorship, and what it entails for patients, their families, and caregivers,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. “We need to intensify and provide more focus on our efforts to understand the issues associated with cancer survival.”
These may include research on some of the long-term effects of cancer therapy such as “chemo brain,” which is how many survivors refer to the mental fuzziness after chemotherapy, or how therapies affect the bones and heart in the long term. “We can’t say ‘you beat cancer’ and forget about it,” Lichtenfeld says.
“We also need to redouble the financial issues, insurance issues, psychosocial issues, and pain management issues,” he says.