Guest Director's Update
Cancer Survivorship Research Conference: Recovery and Beyond
I was pleasantly surprised and very gratified that this year’s Fifth Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference, held June 17–19 in Washington, DC, was our biggest meeting yet. Despite a weak economy and many competing scientific meetings, more than 550 researchers, patient advocates, cancer care specialists, public health officials, and others attended from 44 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and a number of foreign countries. This is testament to the rapid growth and evolution within the field of cancer survivorship, both in the rigor of scientific inquiry being pursued and the numbers of those engaged in research and care that addresses the long-term needs of cancer survivors.
Reflecting increased awareness of the potential public health impact of cancer survivorship, the CDC joined with NCI, the American Cancer Society, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation as a co-sponsor of this year’s conference. All of us share the hope and belief that this national survivorship conference will act as a catalyst for future research and for promoting clinical care that helps cancer survivors and caregivers move beyond recovery. The forum certainly offered an opportunity to highlight cutting-edge survivorship science, meet and network with cancer survivorship investigators from multiple disciplines, and interact with survivors whose personal experiences were often reflected in—and may potentially be affected in the future by—this emerging field of research.
Among the major themes at this year’s conference was the growing attention being paid to issues of energy balance, especially the role of physical activity and weight in cancer survivors’ health-related outcomes. Emerging evidence shows that physical activity and weight loss may favorably affect not only quality of life and symptom management, but also recurrence and survival. There is also a shift in thinking around the need to develop and offer effective cancer rehabilitation programs for survivors, something that our European colleagues have embraced but has yet to become mainstream practice in the United States. While there have been cardiac rehabilitation programs in this country for many years, the growing field of exercise research among cancer survivors points toward incorporating more structured physical activity into cancer treatment and survivorship care. (See “Guidelines Urge Exercise for Cancer Patients, Survivors” in this issue.)
Experts at the meeting addressed the increasing challenge of identifying the best model of care for cancer patients to facilitate their transition from active treatment to recovery. Such a program should provide survivors with the knowledge necessary for understanding what to expect after treatment ends, including how to manage persistent problems, decrease the risk for late effects, optimize their health, and communicate effectively with their diverse health care providers to coordinate future care.
Finally, conference attendees were energized by remarks from Dr. Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, about the new national focus on comparative effectiveness studies and financing. She challenged us to consider how we are going to best research and disseminate the kind of care that is shown to be safe, timely, effective, efficient, equitable, and patient-centered to our growing population of cancer survivors. In the end, finding the answers to these key questions may be one of our best strategies for reducing the national burden of cancer.
Dr. Julia H. Rowland
Director, NCI Office of Cancer Survivorship