Once cancer treatment is complete, what’s next?
There are more than 13 million cancer survivors in the United States today, and that number is expected to reach 18 million by 2020, according to The American Association for Cancer Research. What does life after cancer treatment mean to those survivors? The growing number of survivors highlights the need for more attention and care for the next phase once cancer treatment is complete.
“After treatment has ended and they reach the survivorship phase, many patients are unsure about what to expect or what they should do next,” says Colleen Hallock, RN, Cancer Survivorship Coordinator at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
“Completing treatment is only part of the journey. Many patients have other medical issues, experience side effects from treatment or continue to feel emotional distress about being diagnosed with and treated for cancer,” says Hallock. “Patients may need help connecting to appropriate resources in order for them to stay healthy and thrive in the role of the survivor.”
According to the Institute of Medicine, every patient should receive an individualized survivorship care plan that includes guidelines and recommendations for how to maintain their health.
“Many organizations, such as Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, have developed programs to meet this growing need. We provide assistance in navigating the health care system, identifying programs and classes that can help aid long-term health and recovery and much more,” says Hallock. “We want to support people beyond treatment for illness and throughout their healthcare journey.”
Each person’s cancer survivorship journey is unique. For example, a woman who just completed treatment for breast cancer is told about the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight and might need help with meal planning or want to join an exercise program with other breast cancer survivors. Another patient may need resources to quit smoking after their cancer treatment is complete, to lower their risk for other cancers and additional health problems. Cancer survivorship care provides survivors with patient-specific recommendations to help ensure their health and well-being continues beyond their treatment, Hallock says.
Cancer survivorship care providers typically assist in building plans that consist of:
- Background information and a treatment summary
- Routine follow-up care
- Lifestyle recommendations
- Guidelines for other cancer screenings
- Clear and consistent communication with a primary care provider
- Additional resources to ease other areas of distress
Many cancer centers, including the one at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, offer a formal survivorship program. But if your hospital does not, different care plans have been developed and supported by The National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center to help patients and healthcare professionals navigate the survivorship phase.
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