Nurse’s Notes: Programs can aid cancer survivors

(The Missoulian) Many Americans are choosing to lead healthier lifestyles, whether by diet, exercise, lifestyle changes or a variety of all three. While these choices can help prevent chronic illness such as heart disease or cancer, routine cancer screening and preventive care help with early detection and increases a person’s chances of effective treatment and survival.

The American Cancer Society has guideline screening recommendations for the early detection of cancer in average-risk people for breast cancer, cervical and endometrial cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. Any person older than age 20 also should have a routine health history and physical exams, including skin, testicular, thyroid, and oral cavity exams. Also, it is important for a person to receive health counseling for tobacco, sun exposure, diet and nutrition, risk factors, sexual practices, and environmental and occupational exposures.

People benefit by routine health maintenance and cancer screening because they take ownership of their health care. It empowers them to be familiar with their medical history and allows them to modify their lifestyle choices.

If cancer is detected, a person begins the treatment phase. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or watchful monitoring. Much of the time, routine health maintenance and screening for other cancers are put on hold. Managing treatment side effects and primary health problems, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, becomes the focus of the person’s health care.

Once acute cancer treatment is complete, a person is in the survivorship phase. Health maintenance and cancer screening may again become the primary focus. Not only do patients need follow-up care about their cancer diagnosis, such as monitoring, assessment and treatment of long-term side effects, they need care for any other medical conditions, psychosocial and emotional support, routine cancer screenings and education.

The number of cancer survivors is projected to reach 20 million by 2020, according to the Institute of Medicine. As these numbers increase, the importance of health maintenance, preventive care and health screening increases. Patients benefit from a coordinated approach to this continued care.

For this reason, cancer survivorship programs are becoming more commonplace and an increasingly important part of cancer care. Communication between cancer specialists and primary care providers is important for a patient leaving acute cancer treatment. The patient has a sense of security when it is clear about appointments and timing and who is responsible to help the patient with problems or questions.

A key part of a cancer survivorship program is the treatment summary and survivorship care plan. The treatment summary is a detailed document that summarizes all care surrounding a person’s cancer diagnosis, from signs and symptoms, diagnosis and staging, treatment, information about side effects and management, and any other related procedures or testing.

The survivorship care plan provides patients with a schedule of recommended guidelines after the cancer, as well as routine cancer screening. It also provides patients with information about potential late effects of cancer treatment and referral sources, such as psychosocial support and counseling, genetic counseling, prevention and wellness, financial advice or assistance. The treatment summary and survivorship care plan provide patients with information to empower them to direct their own health care.

Living beyond cancer is not the end of a person’s experience with cancer. For many people, a survivorship program can be part of their post-treatment support.