Today, due to advances in early detection and treatment, more people are surviving cancer than ever before. Currently it is estimated that there are more than 15 million cancer survivors in the United States. By the year 2026, that number is expected to reach 20.3 million.
Receiving the news that you are “cancer free” is a cause for celebration. However, cancer care doesn’t end when treatment is over. It is important for all survivors to know that the follow-up care after the completion of cancer treatment is important for their health and may affect their overall quality of life and survival.
The post-treatment period can be filled with uncertainty for survivors. The “who, what, and when” of follow-up care can be confusing. In recent years the development of survivorship care plans have offered guidance by providing survivors with a detailed plan for the management of their health.
Survivorship care plans include a brief summary of the cancer diagnosis and staging information; a summary of the cancer treatment received; side effects of treatment that occurred that may affect future health; supportive services received, and information about possible late and long-term effects of treatment.
Plans also include medical contact information; signs that cancer has returned; detailed schedule for follow-up care including blood work, imaging, and other tests; recommendations for future cancer screening; and recommendations for healthy living such as leading an active lifestyle, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption and sun exposure, and avoiding tobacco products.
In many cases, oncology healthcare providers are providing patients with their survivorship care plan. To help with the management of a survivor’s health, it is very important for survivors to share their survivorship care plan with their primary care physicians, specialists, and other healthcare providers.
These providers are often not familiar with the long-term side effects as a result of cancer treatments. They also may not be familiar with managing specific follow-up care and cancer screening for survivors. The information contained in a survivorship care plan may help to inform them of the survivor’s health history and guide their practice to better manage the survivor’s health.
The post-treatment phase is an important phase of cancer care, and the use of survivorship care plans can help cancer survivors continue to receive quality care for life.
Stacy R. Stanifer is an oncology clinical nurse specialist at Baptist Health Lexington.