Caring for Survivors
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Caring for Survivors
The number of cancer survivors in the United States has grown from 3 million in 1971 to nearly 12 million today. As this number continues to expand, developing and implementing best practices in providing optimal care and support for cancer survivors has become an increasingly important part of the missions of NCI and the NCI-designated cancer centers. Two of every three adults live for at least 5 years and three of four children live for at least 10 years after they complete their cancer treatments.
Cancer survivors may experience a variety of health risks and needs following treatment that can be addressed through well-designed survivorship plans and palliative care. Palliative care refers to care that is intended to improve symptoms and quality of life—whether it’s during active cancer treatment or afterwards, including at the end of life.
In the past decade, the NCI-designated cancer centers have been instrumental in the progress that has been made in advancing palliative care. Research has shown that palliative care not only improves the quality of life of patients and their level of satisfaction with their care, but it can also lead to significant reductions in costs associated with visits to hospitals and intensive care units, among other measures. Consequently, survivorship and palliative care programs are being increasingly incorporated into the routine care of cancer patients at the centers.
Palliative Care at Cancer Centers
Patient-centered programs and palliative care research are important elements of the mission at many cancer centers:
- Researchers conducted a classic palliative care study at Massachusetts General Hospital, part of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. In a randomized clinical trial, they found that early palliative care for patients with advanced lung cancer led not only to enhanced quality of life, but to a longer median survival as well.
- At the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in California, an NCI-funded research program on palliative care addresses the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of patients with lung cancer and their families. Called Passport to Comfort, this hospital-wide teaching program helps staff identify and overcome barriers to effective symptom management. An associated research study is examining how different types of interventions address patient, professional, and systemic barriers to pain and fatigue management. Once the program is refined, they plan to disseminate it widely into community practice settings.
- Northwestern University’s Palliative Care Program focuses on improving the quality of life for patients diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, and for their families as well. The goal is to alleviate suffering of any kind throughout the course of the disease. The Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern integrates palliative care into the treatment of patients and encourages palliative training for oncologists, supported by an NCI grant.
- A 3-month pilot training program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center helps residents and nurses better understand the importance of palliative care, which is paving the way for specific consultations to be integrated into patient care.
- At the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida there is a strong commitment to providing patients with comprehensive palliative care from the time of diagnosis throughout the course of illness.
- The Doris A. Howell Consult Service works closely with patients, their families, and the health care team at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego. They consider the full range of symptom management, pain control, and ways to address psychological, spiritual, and social problems.