“Overwhelmingly, more patients are surviving their cancer,” Austin oncologist Debra Ann Patt, MD, told Texas Medicine, TMA’s monthly physician publication. The success of cancer treatments brings new issues to light, including how physicians — both oncologists, or cancer doctors, and primary care physicians — can support patients once treatment is over.
That’s where “survivorship plans” come in.
Survivorship plans include a summary of the patient’s diagnosis and treatments, as well as a course of action for screenings, office visits, and lifestyle recommendations. The goal is to improve the quality of care for cancer survivors and empower them to care for themselves, live better lives, and reduce the risk of recurrence.
These plans, though not as common as they should be, are an important part of any survivor's aftercare, said Dr. Patt.
Cancer treatment is tremendously complex, and it can involve a vast array of surgeries, therapies, and prescriptions.
“At some point, patients kind of feel like deer in headlights,” Dr. Patt said. When survivors come out of the whirlwind of treatment, it is imperative that cancer specialists and primary care physicians coordinate follow-up care and talk to patients about their survivorship care plan, she said.
The consequences of cancer and its treatment can exact a toll on survivors. Impaired organ function, infertility, cosmetic changes, depression, anxiety, and limitations in mobility, communication, and the ability to think clearly are among the problems faced by some survivors. Survivorship plans can help patients manage these after-effects or avoid them completely, according to a 2005 report from the Institute of Medicine.
Dr. Patt said survivorship care plans are part of recognizing the whole spectrum of cancer care and assessment.
“It's really a paradigm shift in how we think about cancer care,” she said.
For more on survivorship plans, check out the May issue of Texas Medicine.