Cancer survivorship: What’s next?
Early detection, advances in treatment, and innovative new technology all contribute to the continual rise cancer survivorship rates in the U.S. The American Cancer Society estimates 16.9 million individuals with a history of cancer were alive on Jan. 1, 2019, in the U.S., and it is estimated to increase to more than 22.1 million by 2030. With so many survivors, an essential part of the care continuum is survivorship programming geared to helping patients find sure footing on the path to the best possible quality of life post-cancer.
THE PHASES OF SURVIVORSHIP
Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, are currently undergoing treatment, or are in remission for cancer, you are a survivor. There are three phases of survivorship:
–Acute survivorship starts at diagnosis and goes through to the end of initial treatment. Cancer treatment is the focus.
–Extended survivorship starts at the end of initial treatment and goes through the months after. The effects of cancer and treatment are the focus.
–Permanent survivorship is when years have passed since cancer treatment ended. There is less of a chance that the cancer may come back. Long-term effects of cancer and treatment are the focus.
No matter what phase you’re in, your life has surely been changed. Perhaps you may think it can never be the same, however, your cancer care team has many resources available to support you as you transition from cancer diagnosis to cancer survivorship.
Many patients report that the end of cancer treatment is bittersweet. Getting a clean bill of health also means giving up what has become an important support network that includes regular doctor appointments and bonds formed with other patients and staff at their cancer center.
When the routine visits wind down, some patients feel adrift and unsure of what to do next. They often have concerns about whether the cancer will return, and some feel betrayed by their bodies and struggle with anxiety or depression. There are also physical changes that can include fatigue, learning and memory disorders, neuropathy, osteoporosis, pain, and lymphedema. Living with a history of cancer is different for each person and it’s important to know that however you feel, your providers are here to help.
HAVE A PLAN
As your cancer treatment ends, it’s important to talk to your providers about what post-treatment life looks like. Essential to survivorship is having a cancer survivorship plan. The plan should include complete, personalized information about your cancer and the care you received that can be shared with all future caregivers. The plan can set guidelines for healthy living including diet and fitness recommendations, as well as set timelines for proper surveillance to ensure early detection if the cancer returns.
The survivorship plan can also identify common concerns or symptoms that a survivor is likely to experience based on treatment and either provides or helps a survivor to find the resources they need to address them head on. Because survivors face more than the physical impact of their disease, a survivorship plan may also help them find financial consulting, social support and even fitness or cooking programs to help them continue the path of good health and care.
Leslie Erdman is a nurse practitioner and survivorship program coordinator for UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers in the Susquehanna region.