Survivorship: adult cancer survivors

Patricia A Ganz
Primary Care 2009, 36 (4): 721-41
During the next decade, a rapid increase in the number of new cancer diagnoses in the population as well as a growing number of cancer survivors can be expected. Cancer is anticipated to exceed cardiovascular disease as the primary cause of mortality in the United States population. Despite efforts in tobacco control, the aging of the population and obesity epidemic will contribute toward the increasing incidence of cancer. Although oncology specialists will continue to play a critical role in the diagnosis and initial treatment of patients with cancer, primary care providers will need to play an expanding role in the early detection of cancer, as well as the follow-up, health promotion, and cancer surveillance that will be necessary after initial cancer treatment. Oncology specialists will need to do a better job coordinating the care of their patients with primary care providers, and work toward a shared care model that will optimize the quality of care delivered by the health care system. Cancer treatment summaries and survivorship care plans are an initial attempt to address the current fragmentation and lack of coordination in care that exist today. Cancer survivors are at risk for a wide range of late effects after their primary cancer treatment. Unfortunately, there is limited information about the exact incidence and prevalence of many physical late effects. For example, how many women given standard adjuvant chemotherapy with doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide for breast cancer at age 35 years will develop permanent amenorrhea after treatment, and be infertile? What is the excess risk of osteoporosis in a 70-year-old man receiving endocrine therapy for prostate cancer? What is the risk of coronary artery disease after mantle irradiation for Hodgkin lymphoma? Because of the limited database for many of these sequelae of treatment, clinicians have to keep all of these potential risks in mind as they interview a survivor, and develop a long-term management plan that focuses on symptomatic management and future chronic disease prevention. Until one has a better sense of the natural history of these late sequelae, as well as better information about who is at risk, focusing on a taking a cancer survivor-directed medical history may be the best detection tool that is available. Drawing on a shared care model, primary care providers should collaborate with oncology specialists to determine if cancer-specific laboratory and radiographic studies are indicated to determine if the patient has a cancer treatment-related late effect or cancer recurrence. Health promotion and aggressive management of comorbid conditions should be a standard of care for cancer survivors, as with other patients in the primary care practice. With the growing number of cancer survivors, as well as the recommendations of the IOM report directing research and policy on this subject (see Box 1), it is hoped that in the future a better evidence base to direct health care management in cancer survivors will be built up.

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