Last month, we hosted our annual Survivorship Event to celebrate the lives of former patients.
More than 10 million Americans are alive with a personal history of cancer and there are 1.4 million people diagnosed with cancer each year. Increasing innovations in medical technology have led to earlier diagnoses and improved treatment of many cancers, resulting in more cancer survivors. However, cancer survivorship is a largely understudied area.
There are several varying definitions of a cancer survivor. When cancer was incurable, the term “survivor” applied to the family members whose loved one died from the disease. As improvements in treatment occurred in the 1960′s, physicians began to refer to “cancer survivors” as those who had survived 5 years past their diagnosis or treatment.
More recently, the definition has evolved with the National Action Plan defining the term “cancer survivors” as people who have been diagnosed with cancer and the people in their lives who are affected by their diagnosis, including family members, friends, and caregivers.
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) defines “survivors” as an individual from the time of diagnosis through the remaining years of life.
Though there are many varying definitions of a “cancer survivor”, there are many issues that they all face including the fear of recurrence, anxiety, depression, sadness, uncertainty and a heightened sense of vulnerability. Survivors also face employment and insurance problems, as well as physical limitations because of the tumor and treatment. In addition, there are many barriers to optimal cancer survivorship care that exist in today’s health care arena. Due to a fragmented delivery system consisting of multiple different physicians, including a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and primary care provider, patients often can feel lost without guidance and direction. Cancer patients also may not receive necessary noncancer care if their cancer diagnosis shifts attention away from care that is routine but necessary. Additional barriers include a lack of awareness of the late effects of cancer and its treatment, as patients and primary care physicians do not routinely receive a summary of their treatments or possible late effects.
Cancer survivors face numerous physical, psychological, and social, spiritual, and financial issues throughout their diagnosis and treatment and for the remaining years of their lives.
Many recent sources such as From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor – Lost in Transition, a report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academies, as well as A National Action Plan for Cancer Survivorship: Advancing Public Health Strategies, a report cosponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stress the importance of survivorship. We must translate these recommendations from these two reports.
At Oncology Consultants, we feel that a shared care model where all treating physicians have a common understanding through a collaborative team effort is imperative. This allows a smooth transition from active cancer treatment to survivorship care not only for patients and physicians, but also family members, nurses, and other health care professionals. The time for action is now, as survivorship is life!
“We saw it in the faces, heard it in the laughter and felt it in the tears of remembrance. We welcomed over one hundred p
atients, friends, family members and personnel. “ - Robin Arrambide, Nurse Navigator, on our recent Survivorship Event.