A New Era for Cancer Survivors
The closer we've scrutinized what it means to be a cancer survivor in the United States, the more we've learned about how remarkably complex and daunting an experience it can be. Our intensive study over the past decade has produced excellent data about the risk of second cancers and late effects of treatment, as well as cancer's impact on survivors' emotional and psychological well-being, their ability to maintain or get insurance, their function in the workplace, and even on their relationships with their families and friends.
As former ASCO President and cancer survivor Dr. David Johnson described: With this disease, there is no "Humpty Dumpty moment" during which a patient is reconstructed and simply returns to who he or she was before diagnosis.
But thanks to legions of dedicated advocates and researchers, we have made remarkable strides in elucidating the survivorship experience. And just 2 days ago, many of the more than 10 million cancer survivors in the United States celebrated National Cancer Survivors' Day, embodying all that we've learned about the travails of cancer survivors and how to offer them the individualized support they need and deserve.
Last year we saw what I believe will be a watershed event in the survivorship movement, the release of the President's Cancer Panel report on cancer survivorship. The report provided a number of important recommendations to address survivors' issues and needs. Among other things, it called for better monitoring of long-term and late effects and for oncologists to provide patients who have completed cancer therapy with a record of the treatments they received to help guide their future care by other providers.
The NCI Office of Cancer Survivorship (OCS), under the leadership of Dr. Julia Rowland and her team of proactive program staff, is shepherding the science of survivorship research. In addition to funding innovative studies, OCS is actively partnering with other organizations to use avenues like the Internet and teleconferencing to help educate survivors about the available tools to aide recovery and to make survivorship research, resources, and care more accessible.
For example, NCI, along with the Lance Armstrong Foundation, has provided funds for a telephone education workshop series produced in collaboration with several survivorship and cancer organizations and delivered by CancerCare. The last workshop had nearly 1,900 participants, including individuals from countries such as India, Germany, Kenya, and Thailand.
There is also a growing focus on helping survivors lead fuller, healthier lives by supporting appropriate follow-up care and promoting lifestyle changes such as physical activity, healthy diet, and smoking cessation that may reduce illness-related morbidity and premature mortality.
Since OCS was established in 1996, there has been a nearly five-fold increase in the number of grants it manages. Survivorship research has clearly matured over this period and study designs are increasingly sophisticated and theory-driven, often involving multidisciplinary teams striving not just to document the challenges faced by survivors, but to design and deliver effective programs to address them. In fact, almost 40 percent of currently funded OCS grants contain an intervention component.
Indeed, it is unacceptable to say that somebody who has survived cancer should "be happy just to be alive." Our goal now is clear: to help survivors not just continue to exist, but continue to live life to its fullest.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach