Cancer is a disease that impacts nearly everyone in some way. In fact, it is predicted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) that in 2030 there will be 22.1 million cancer survivors in the United States or about 15% of the entire population.
As treatments improve, patients with cancer will live longer. Therefore, understanding cancer survivorship is becoming increasingly important.
The University of Colorado Cancer Center provides survivorship care plans (SCP) for its patients. A SCP is a document that summarizes a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, and reasons to contact their health care teams. This document describes the recommended follow-up plan and contains wellness tips and resources. It is designed to be shared with your primary care team and may be reviewed in person or via telehealth.
CU Cancer Center also providers electronic consults to health care professionals with specific questions.
For general information about survivorship, please contact Carlin Callaway, DNP, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 720-848-3931, or 720-848-4870.
The term “cancer survivorship” generally has two meanings. According to cancer.Net, the first, more traditional, definition of cancer survivorship is “having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.” The second definition that is more commonly used today is “living with, through, and beyond cancer. This means that cancer survivorship starts at diagnosis. It includes people who receive treatment over a longer time. Their treatment can lower the chance of cancer coming back or help to keep the cancer from spreading.”
Cancer survivorship has three phases:
Acute survivorship: This phase of survivorship starts at the diagnosis and finishes when treatment is completed. Treating the cancer is the focus during this phase.
Extended survivorship: This phase begins after the patient finishes treatment and continues for the months to follow. The focus during this phase is on the side-effects of cancer and treatment.
Permanent survivorship: The last phase of survivorship focuses on the long-term side-effects of cancer and treatment. This phase begins years after the final treatment when the cancer is less likely to return.
As treatments and therapies for cancer are improving, the number of cancer survivors is increasing each year. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that there are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the United States alone. By 2030 that number is set to increase to more than 22 million.
As of 2019:
Improvements in cancer prevention initiatives, such as increased screening, maybe a reason behind higher survival rates. Screening tests include:
Cancer researchers all across the country, including at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, are working to develop screening tests for other cancer types such as lung or ovarian cancer.
Many times, cancer survivors deal with mental health challenges they had not experienced before the diagnosis.
Some of these challenges include:
After completing treatment:
Often times mental health problems arise after treatment is completed and patients are returning to their “normal” lives. This transition often is accompanied by feelings of anxiety about recurrence or other side-effects from treatment. Additionally, transitioning to regular visits with a PCP can cause anxiety as visits with the oncologist to become less frequent. Patients may worry that their usual doctor will not catch signs of recurrence or may not be familiar with their cancer.
It is important that cancer survivors take care of their mental health. A few practices to maintain and improve the quality of life include:
The importance of maintaining good mental health while going through cancer was once not considered a priority as it was assumed depression was a normal response to the diagnosis. However, there has recently been a push by researchers to increase the funding of mental health research in cancer survivors as more studies show that mental health problems are not only common but also can affect the quality and quantity of life of those survivors. Mental health screenings during and after cancer treatment are increasingly becoming the standard when it comes to cancer survivorship. If you are struggling be sure to talk to your doctor and get the support you need.
While relief is a common emotion after completing treatments, so is uncertainty and worry about the future. Some cancer survivors find that it is hard to return to “normal” and instead call their life after cancer treatment a “new normal”. The “new normal” may be defined by:
Dealing with a “new normal” can be hard for cancer survivors. Emotional concerns include:
It is important to note that feeling unsettled after completing treatment is normal and almost expected. Be sure to talk to your health care team about the concerns you are having.
Many cancer survivors agree that their experience with the disease did have some positive impact on their life in some form. This often includes: