Planning to Survive Cancer

According to a study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago this week, more than 95 percent of the time, cancer specialists accurately recognize the presentation of side effects of cancer treatment years after the treatment is completed. That’s compared to primary care doctors who are much less successful in identifying the same late stage side effects. The findings don’t infer that primary doctors are less-than-excellent physicians. Cancer is only one subset of diseases they face in their practices. It’s not expected that primary care doctors can be specialists in everything.

For cancer survivors and those who treat them, the study’s findings stress the importance of communication between primary healthcare providers and cancer specialists. It demonstrates the need for a team-based approach to cancer survivorship planning and cancer rehabilitation. Communication and information exchange is key to such planning, with the goal being that the patient, the primary care doctor, and the cancer treatment team remain in constant communication after the patient completes treatment.

One of the most important things a cancer survivor can do to ensure successful team-based aftercare is to find and participate in a survivorship program. Offered by a number of medical centers, survivorship programs teach patients how to communicate their needs to their healthcare team. However, access to such programs is not available to all survivors. “There are not enough structured cancer-specific survivorship programs available for all cancer survivors in all areas of the country,” said Dr. Jennifer Litton, an oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in a recent interview with Dr. Samantha Meaney of ABC News’ Medical Unit. “So working with the primary care providers will be extremely important for long term care for survivors in our country.”

There are now survivorship resources online, but not many support a system where doctors and patients work together to create personalized survivorship care plans. That’s the next and fast-approaching wave in cancer survivorship care. Many in the cancer survivorship community are already hard at work in developing such tools. In the meantime, both in bricks and mortar settings and on-line, survivors can educate themselves about how to improve their odds of healthy cancer rehab. They can learn what to look out for so they can report suspicious symptoms to their doctors, and overall, they can learn how to be responsible survivors.

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