By: Milan Sheth, M.D., medical oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center
As of January 2019, there were an estimated 16.9 million cancer survivors in the United States. As diagnosis and treatments improve, the number of cancer survivors is projected to increase to 22.2 million by 2030 according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Cancer brings a range of physical, emotional and practical challenges. With the growing number of cancer survivors in our community comes a growing need to support them and the challenges they face.
According to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis through the balance of his or her life. The MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center shares that philosophy and provides a comprehensive Survivorship Program aimed at improving health, wellness and quality of life from the moment a patient is diagnosed.
For example, the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute offers a robust program of psychosocial support services that address the emotional, spiritual and practical effects of cancer, such as support groups, mentorship programs and a unique mind-body oncology coach program.
It also provides patients with the framework for a healthy lifestyle before, during and after treatments through nutrition support from dedicated registered dietitians, and physical activity support through rehabilitation therapies and exercise classes, such as yoga and Pilates. This supports long-term recovery from treatments and can lower the risk of new and recurrent cancers.
For some, the journey after treatment completion can be a joyful experience. For others, new challenges can arise, including financial or emotional distress, as well as health-related effects stemming from rigorous cancer treatments, such as dental issues, early menopause, memory deficits, heart damage and infertility.
If cancer is found after treatment, or after being undetectable for an extended period, it’s called a cancer recurrence. To help address this challenges, each patient is provided with a comprehensive survivorship care plan at the end of treatment. Plans are created by a physician or nurse practitioner and are uniquely tailored to the needs of each patient.
A timeline of each surgery, scan or therapy during a patient’s cancer treatment is included in the survivorship plan as a way for them to keep a concise history of their care as they continue to work with their oncologist and primary care physician. Plans incorporate monitoring guidelines to help patients proactively screen for any reemergent cancer, including timeframes for follow-up scans or lab work. They also address possible physical and emotional late effects and strategies for managing them.
Cancer care is so much more than just the medical treatments a patient receives. Survivorship care is a critical element to a person’s journey from diagnosis. Engaging and maintaining a healthier lifestyle can improve the quality and length of life of cancer survivors.
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