Thus Sunday, June 2, we celebrate National Cancer Survivors Day. The needs and concerns of this growing population are increasingly on the radar, and for good reason. We asked the Society’s Director of Quality of Life, Rebecca Kirch, JD, to review the current landscape.
“There is much to celebrate on June 2nd as we observe the 26th annual National Cancer Survivors Day. Thanks to improved early detection and effective cancer therapies, the number of survivors living in the United States currently is estimated at about 14 million and is expected to reach 18 million by 2022. While these rising numbers underscore our progress, they also serve as an important reminder that we must consider the public health implications of cancer survivorship and the importance of addressing health concerns and quality of life of these survivors and their families so they don’t just survive – they can also thrive.
“The latest survivorship science emerging in the US and abroad, highlighted in a recent special supplement to the American Cancer Society’s journal Cancer is helping us understand more about the increased health risks experienced by cancer survivors in the aftermath, particularly as a result of their exposure to cancer-fighting therapies. Toxicities of cancer treatments often leave lasting pain or other physical and emotional symptoms, and may also create health conditions that arise long after treatment ends, appearing as life-threatening ‘late effects’ down the road.
“Children and their family caregivers are particularly vulnerable because these toxic anti-cancer treatments take place at the same time kids’ brains are building bridges and their bones are growing, triggering not only immediate physical and cognitive side effects but also late effects appearing among adult survivors of childhood cancers that last their lifetime.
“For all people facing cancer – at any age and any stage – quality cancer treatment and survivorship care looking forward requires that we treat the person beyond the disease. This requires integrating alongside therapeutic options to combat the cancer (e.g., surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, adjuvant therapy) additional therapeutic approaches addressing quality of life concerns, including pain, symptom & stress management for patients and families through palliative care; emotional support through psychosocial care; addressing disability through impairment-driven rehabilitation; and promoting other aspects of health & wellness.
“This integrated approach is evidence-based. For example, research has now consistently demonstrated there is better communication and symptom management when palliative care is involved as an extra layer of support integrated with oncology treatment from the onset for all adults and children. It improves quality of life and survival, helping cancer patients complete treatments and rehabilitation. Studies also show that people receiving palliative care during chemotherapy are more likely to compete their cycle of treatment, stay in clinical trials, and report a higher quality of life than similar patients who did not receive palliative care.
“Building on these advances, the American Cancer Society is positioned at the forefront in pursuing a robust Quality of Life & Survivorship action agenda coordinating research, programs, and advocacy initiatives to engage the public, professionals, and policymakers in our efforts to save lives and prevent suffering in every care setting and make person-centered and goal-directed care a reality:
- Through our research programs, we have confirmed the importance of quality of life and we have heard from patients, survivors, and families what they want out of treatment, quality of living, and long term survivorship. The Society also has had a direct hand in building the community of survivorship researchers over the past decade, hosting with partners a Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference that brings together investigators, clinicians and survivors to share information on the latest science and foster project collaboration among them.
- We have taken this knowledge and developed programs to educate patients, survivors, families, and practitioners about the importance of quality of life discussions and how they can play their part. The Society has also played an integral role in the formation of the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center– a collaborative effort with the George Washington Cancer Institute funded by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its goal is to shape the future of post-treatment cancer survivorship care and to improve the quality of life of cancer survivors in the U.S.
- Finally, the Society’s advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), has recently launched a new public policy and legislative campaign – featuring federal and state proposals to boost quality of life and survivorship research, workforce capacity, and access to care while also offering patients, survivors, families and professionals an opportunity to play a key role in “fighting back” by making these QOL and survival issues known to their policymakers as priorities for them.