Advances in modern medicine have led to a new era in cancer care — one where there are more survivors than ever before in history. This is largely attributed to technology that allows for earlier detection, along with innovative treatments that more effectively treat the disease. As the number of cancer survivors grows, so does our recognition of the unique needs of this population, and the necessity to provide adequate survivorship care.
“Commonly, people think of the term ‘cancer survivorship’ as being disease-free after cancer treatment,” says Dr. Nancy Mills, a medical oncologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and the Director of Survivorship at the NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital Cancer Center in Bronxville. “In reality, the term refers to any person living with, through, and beyond a cancer diagnosis. It also includes the relationship with family members, friends and caregivers, as the diagnosis of cancer affects many more people than the person who is diagnosed.
In recent years, society has seen significant advances in both cancer prevention and treatment, as evidenced by the increased number of cancer survivors. Currently in the U.S., there are about 16.9 million cancer survivors; it is estimated that there will be nearly 22.1 million by the year 2030. Says Dr. Mills, “Earlier detection through screenings, such as mammography and colonoscopy, have led to higher success in treatment. And importantly, there are the advances in cancer treatment itself, including immunotherapy (using the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer), targeted therapies (drugs that more precisely identify and attack cancer cells), surgery, and radiation therapy, which have also contributed to the dramatic increase in survivorship.”
Facing the next chapter
Cancer survivorship has its own set of challenges. For those still receiving treatment, concerns may center on its side effects or what the outcome will be. Post treatment, survivors needs include addressing anxiety about cancer recurrence, screening for the development of second cancers, and managing other conditions, both physical and emotional, that may arise. “Cancer brings with it a host of residual effects that survivors, and even their loved ones, may not be aware of,” says Dr. Mills. “These can include fatigue, infertility, psychosocial and cognitive effects, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, loss of productivity and financial effects. These can be very important to a patient but can be overlooked by many, including healthcare providers. They also are the kind of issues that a patient may be reluctant to discuss with the healthcare team, yet it is important to do so.”
An integrated approach to survivorship care at NYP Lawrence
Committed to addressing the challenges of cancer survivorship, The Cancer Survivorship Program at the state-of-the-art NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital Cancer Center stresses a collaborative, integrated approach that includes the healthcare team (such as the primary care physician, social workers, psychotherapists, geneticists, etc.) and the patient’s personal support network of family and friends. “Working together as a team is one of the most effective ways to approach the challenges facing cancer survivors,” explains Dr. Mills.
The program is based upon a shared care model, which integrates the combined expertise of a patient’s primary care and oncologic teams, and addresses the entire spectrum of needs the cancer survivor may face following completion of treatment. Particular focus is placed upon important medical issues that can arise in cancer survivors, which can include cardiac and bone health as well as emotional wellbeing. The Cancer Survivorship Program is a collaborative effort among specialists throughout NYP Lawrence, and also includes those from Columbia University Medical Center.
As advances in cancer care continue to evolve, survivorship care will become a critical priority. Says Dr. Mills, “The dramatic improvements in treatment outcomes we’ve seen as a result of personalized, integrated care will make this model absolutely essential to meet the needs of this growing population. I am proud to be a part of NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and to be leading the way in this endeavor for cancer survivors in the Westchester County area.”
To learn more about the cancer survivorship program, visit nyp.org/lawrence.