This Sunday, June 3, is National Cancer Survivors Day. This occasion not only gives us a chance to celebrate America’s 12 million cancer survivors, it also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges they may still face.
The New Normal
Unless you or someone close to you has been touched by cancer, you may not be aware that life after cancer never really goes “back to normal.” Instead, you enter into another phase of your cancer journey. And while you may go back to enjoying a full and active life, it will never be the same. Call it your “new normal.”
In this new normal there are many physical, emotional, social, and financial challenges as a result of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. For example, just getting routine follow-up care from a primary care doctor can be challenging.
A survey of more than 1,000 primary care doctors (internists, family practitioners and gynecologists) found that only 6% were able to identify the main long term side effects of four widely used chemotherapy drugs, compared with 65 percent of oncologists.
These drugs included: doxorubicin, paclitaxel, oxaliplatin and cyclophosphamide, which are used to treat breast and colorectal cancers. Their common side effects include heart problems, nerve damage, early menopause and “chemo brain.”
The researchers said the survey results underscore the need for better communication between cancer specialists and primary care doctors. As a solution, they suggest that patients need to be given treatment summaries and guidelines to give to their doctors for follow-up care.
The findings also make a strong case for electronic medical records which would give primary care doctors access to patient history of the drugs they have taken and possibly any warnings of side effects.
In the meantime, it’s up to patients to maintain their own personal health records and ask their oncologist about the known side effects of their treatment. Patients will also need to keep informed about new research that may uncover new side effects that may crop up long after drugs are approved for use. One of the best ways to do this is to subscribe to an RSS feed that delivers cancer news to your email box.
Cancer Survivor Support
Find support programs and services in your area through the American Cancer Society or your local treatment center.
National Cancer Survivors Day