Q: Who should be in charge of my care once I am finished with cancer treatment?
With the good news that there are now close to 15 million cancer survivors in the United States and with many more to come, there is a looming question as to how we are going to be able to provide the necessary and effective medical care all will need once they complete their cancer treatment. We do not foresee an expansion of the number of health professionals specifically devoted to caring for cancer patients. That means more survivors will receive their long-term follow-up care from health professionals other than those who provided their cancer treatment.
In 2010, the American Cancer Society and the George Washington University Cancer Institute began a collaboration funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create tools to help educate both survivors and their primary care clinicians on what cancer patients need once they complete their initial care. Most primary care clinicians don’t have specific knowledge or training in this area, so getting them relevant information is vitally important in order to facilitate their understanding of the medical, psychological and social needs of cancer survivors.
Our hope is that, with this information available, we will be able to start addressing the unique aspects of life after cancer treatment as survivors once again access usual sources of care. But we have a long way to go to make certain that not only is that information easily accessible, but that it actually gets used in everyday medical practice.
So ask your health professionals if they know what you need for your care long-term as it relates to your cancer diagnosis and treatment. And if they give you a quizzical look, don’t be surprised or dismayed. Let them know that our Survivorship Center (cancer.org/ survivorshipcenter) is here to help them—and to help you. You will be glad you did—and, hopefully, they will too!
Len Lichtenfeld, MD, is deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Send House Call questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.