Focusing on the Long-Term Needs of Cancer Survivors

Some health care experts now consider cancer a chronic illness, and are pushing for better long-term care and support for survivors.

Over the past 30 years, the number of cases of metastatic breast cancer in women under the age of 40 has tripled, experts say.

Survivorship programs at hospitals help address the long-term needs of people who have had cancer.


However, things may be changing. For example, in 2010 the Cleveland Clinic offered a CME course to its physicians on survivorship. "Our cancer survivorship program focuses on early education regarding a cancer patient's long-term needs, including treatment," says Dr. Halle Moorestaff, a physician and the medical director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at Cleveland Clinic.

While very few programs are able to manage the long-term follow-up of cancer survivors, "most cancer centers within academic medical centers have -- or are in the process of creating -- formalized cancer survivorship programs. We're now witnessing an increase in the number for formalized cancer survivorship programs," says Moore, who noted that the American Cancer Society expects the increasing effectiveness of cancer treatment to increase the number of cancer survivors living in the U.S. from about 13.7 million today to 18 million by 2022.

Melanie Smith-Hamm, a former medical researcher who is now the director of education at Barbizon USA School of Modeling & Entertainment, rejected chemotherapy and radiation when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. She had nine lumpectomies, was treated by 14 doctors, and credits alternative medicine with her cure four-and-a-half years later. ("I purchased a recommended juicer and good blender," she says.)

But although Smith-Hamm spoke highly of her treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Cleveland Clinic, none of the institutions at which she received treatment offer her long-term follow-up care or screening "that address the long-term needs of young survivors," she says. Almost every pediatric hospital offers support and follow-up care to those who were treated as children, but young adults who are treated as adults at adult institutions may not be as lucky.

"That is disappointing, because effective long-term survivorship programs are an excellent place to conduct voluntary long-term clinical studies, the research that could benefit the next generation," she explained during the National Women's Survivors Convention in Nashville in August.

Patients themselves are dedicated to offering better support to those living with the aftermath of cancer. Planned by Karen Shayn and judy Pearson -- both cancer survivors -- the Survivor's Convention focused on establishing "a network where women affected by cancer can find their voice, improve their quality of life, and embrace their new normal." And health care providers seem committed to better care: The American College of Surgeons recently imposed new standards on their accredited hospitals, ordering them to develop better patient-centered cancer care plans that include distress screening and survivorship care by 2015.

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    breast cancer
    health care