Cancer survivors have written to OncoLink with a number of questions, comments, and concerns. The areas of concern most frequently identified were:
During the last 30 years there has been dramatic improvement in cancer treatment and in the long-term survival of individuals diagnosed with cancer. However, survival often brings with it physiological and/or psychosocial problems resulting from the disease, treatment, or a combination.
Approximately 30 years ago, children with cancer began to be treated with effective combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. As a result, many children experienced long term remissions and were considered cured. As more and more children survived for longer periods, it became possible to study the effects of treatment and to appreciate that new medical problems had been created. For some individuals, cure had come at a cost. Since that time, clinical trials have enabled researchers to define minimal doses of drugs and radiation therapy that can produce even better cure rates while reducing some of the long-term problems seen earlier.
As treatment for adult cancers has also begun to incorporate more chemotherapy and radiation therapy, adults are also living longer; many are now faced with significant side effects/late effects of treatment.
Late effects of cancer treatment are problems that arise as a result of the cancer treatment, the disease itself or a combination. Individuals treated for cancer may experience hearing loss, heart symptoms, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and bone loss. They may also have thyroid, kidney, and breathing problems as well as a number of other complaints. Health care providers following these individuals should be aware of the risks for developing medical problems facing cancer survivors. These risks are based on the type of cancer and on the treatment received.
Individuals with a history of cancer should be seen regularly and evaluated appropriately when symptoms arise. Although there are certain unavoidable problems that may result from cancer treatment, many problems can be prevented or minimized. Health promotion guidelines are important for everyone, but especially for cancer survivors, since they may be at higher than average risk of developing medical problems as a result of the cancer treatment they received.For example:
Cancer survivors need to be aware of their treatment. They should discuss with their health care provider the potential problems they may face based on their treatment, family history, and lifestyle.