This content is sponsored by Regional Cancer Care Associates
Being diagnosed with cancer is scary, and treatment brings a lot with it, physically and emotionally. Surviving cancer is a victory – but life has changed.
After hair grows back and daily life resumes, breast cancer survivors still need help through the years of follow-ups and navigating which lifestyle factors can help in the long run.
“There’s a lot of research in this field because that population is increasing,” said Dr. Dongmei Wang, an oncologist at Regional Cancer Care Associates. “We are trying to figure out how to help life go back to the new normal.”
The American Institute for Cancer Research recently funded seven grants to address cancer survivorship. These issues spanned four types of cancer and many issues, including maintaining dormancy in breast cancer, preventing the recurrence of leukemia, achieving a healthy weight after diagnosis and more.
What is cancer survivorship?
Survivorship starts with a diagnosis and continues through treatment, recovery and beyond, Wang said. It’s important for medical professionals to know patients’ goals from the beginning of that process.
“If the patient says, ‘I’m a pianist. I need to be able to play,’ we need to take that into consideration because some medications can cause nerve damage,” she said. “If the patient is relatively young and they want to have a family, you want to think about fertility. It’s our goal to preserve the quality of life for the patient as much as we can.”
Once the patient starts treatment, Wang said one of her goals is to reduce any treatment-related side effects. This may mean, for example, giving medicine or working with an oncology dietitian to control nausea and vomiting.
After treatment comes cancer rehabilitation, which is different for every patient. Patients with head and neck cancer may see specialists for dental work, hearing problems or speech therapy. Breast cancer survivors may visit lymphedema clinics to reduce arm swelling, or work with physical therapists to restore the movement of the arm.
Four needs of cancer survivors
Every patient has four major needs after treatment, Wang said. First, they need to keep up to date on screenings and follow up with an oncologist, usually for five years to detect if there is early recurrence.
Second, survivors need help managing long-term toxicities and side effects.
“Some radiation or chemotherapy can cause cancer later down the road,” Wang said. “There are certain chemo drugs that can cause secondary leukemia. As oncologists, we’re monitoring it because, while it is a small risk, it is a real risk.”
Third, survivors need to evaluate their lifestyles and make any necessary changes, including quitting smoking to prevent future health problems – including cancer – related to the habit, and exercising.
“We encourage everyone to exercise because it can prevent not only breast cancer, but all kinds of cancer,” Wang said. “Exercise can reduce your fatigue after treatment. Everybody feels tired after this long haul, but the cure for treatment-related fatigue is exercise.”
Fourth, survivors need support. Wang encourages her patients to join support groups, online or in person.
“I want to emphasize that cancer treatment is a whole piece of people’s lives: before, during and after,” Wang said. “I always think I’m very privileged to have this piece of their life, and I want to deliver what I can for them.”
For more information about cancer survivorship, visit Regional Cancer Care Associates online, or schedule an appointment.