Cancer: Thriving After Surviving

Cancer survivors may face lingering and invisible challenges that require additional care

(RxWiki News) Even the strongest, most determined patients who have won a battle against cancer may still face long-term, invisible issues after their treatment ends. Fortunately, help is in reach for cancer survivors.

Cancer treatment has become so advanced that many survivors are now living for many years after their treatment ends. However, a new study found that patients often faced issues even after they beat cancer. These issues may include physical effects (often incontinence and sexual issues), financial problems from the cost of their treatment and stress over possible future bouts of cancer.

"Overall, we found that cancer survivors are often caught off guard by the lingering problems they experience after cancer treatment," said study author Mary Ann Burg, PhD, LCSW, of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, in a news release. "In the wake of cancer, many survivors feel they have lost a sense of personal control, have reduced quality of life, and are frustrated that these problems are not sufficiently addressed within the medical care system."

The authors of this study called for more honest communication with patients about the side effects of cancer.

Patricia Mumby, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences with the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, IL, said patients should be aware of the effects of cancer and speak up when they encounter problems.

"Patients need to be aware that having a variety of needs is natural and expected during a cancer experience and that attending to those needs will improve their quality of life and perhaps improve the outcome from the cancer treatment that they receive," Dr. Mumby, who was not involved with the current study, told dailyRx News. "Giving themselves permission to voice their concerns, speaking up and opening up the dialogue with their health care team are important steps that the patient can take to facilitate the process. Persistence by the patient to obtain answers and assistance is essential."

Dr. Mumby has done past research on the needs of cancer patients.

Dr. Burg and team studied more than 1,000 cancer survivors for this research. This study began in 2000, when the American Cancer Society (ACS) asked these patients to describe their needs that were not being met.

These patients said their most common long-term issues were physical and financial. They also wanted more education and information about their conditions. Some cited emotional and mental health problems and a need for better social support and communication.

Nearly 40 percent of the study patients said they had ongoing physical issues like sexual problems after treatment, Dr. Burg and team found. Twenty percent reported financial problems from the cost of their cancer treatment.

Among the other issues patients faced were body image issues, trouble holding a job, and a desire for a better relationship with their doctors and caregivers.

"Communication between oncologists and primary care providers is key to improving coordinated care," Dr. Mumby said. "Patients can help to facilitate this by specifically requesting their doctors and other health care providers share their plan of care with each other and inquire about how this will be accomplished."

The ACS says cancer survivors should stay active and eat well to promote good physical and mental health.

This study was published online Jan. 12 in the journal Cancer. The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 13, 2015