Guest Update by Dr. Julia H. Rowland
Cancer Survivorship Research Conference Maps New Challenges
It was very exciting and professionally gratifying for me to join the nearly 500 researchers, patient advocates, cancer care specialists, public health officials, and others at this year's fourth biennial cancer survivorship research conference held June 18-20 in Atlanta, GA. I remember attending the first such meeting in 2002, which was co-sponsored by NCI's Office of Cancer Survivorship in collaboration with the American Cancer Society's Behavioral Research Program. In 2006, the Lance Armstrong Foundation became a full partner as the meeting steadily expanded in scope.
I was struck by the dramatic growth and sophistication of the science presented during last week's meeting. It highlighted key topics and critical questions facing those living with a history of cancer and their caregivers and health care providers. It featured forward-looking research focusing on the unique physical, psychosocial, behavioral, and economic outcomes associated with cancer survivorship.
New findings and insights were presented by a growing cadre of investigators who are dedicating their considerable expertise, talent, and time in this still relatively young field of cancer research. This year, we received and considered 220 abstracts for presentation, a new record for the conference. We selected 12 of the top-ranked abstracts for podium presentations, revealing a wealth of new data and directions for future research.
One of the major plenary sessions focused on new directions in biobehavioral research. A chronic inflammation model proposed at this session could explain two of the most troublesome, persistent effects of cancer treatment - fatigue and depression. Another plenary delved into the burgeoning research examining the impact of cancer on family caregivers. We have only recently come to describe empirically the hidden costs (physical, psychological, and economic) of caregiving and the critical need to intervene not just with cancer patients but also with the family members and friends who provide the bulk of patients' long-term care.
The conference also served as a springboard for mapping out future research and clinical directions in this dynamic and fast-growing scientific area. For example, I was privileged to moderate a fascinating symposium on studies of new groups of cancer survivors: those surviving second cancers, recurrence, and advanced disease. As cancer becomes for many a chronic disease, this poses new challenges for us to address.
I was also drawn to the closing session on survivorship research and the media, which featured a lively dialogue with several well-respected print, radio, and TV journalists. I found the discussions and insider perspective very informative and hope the session will stimulate researchers to think about how to connect with the media and how we can promote the science of cancer survivorship, get more visibility for this work, and have our research results disseminated more widely.
The demand for such information is indicated by new data from NCI's Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), which show that 63 percent of cancer survivors report looking for cancer information, compared with only 27 percent of people with no personal or family history of cancer. We need to meet that rising demand with evidence-based information and interventions.
It is also clear that survivorship research is of growing interest to scientists, policy leaders, and clinicians around the country. It has been a focus of emphasis in recent years by the Institute of Medicine, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, leaders of the NCI-designated Cancer Centers, and NCI's Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP) pilot.
This survivorship research conference has highlighted the gaps in our knowledge base, what it is going to take to address those gaps, and what we need to do to get there. I know we will!