Cancer survivorship: a recent concept
These discussions may not have even taken place 10 years ago – when the notion of cancer survivorship was, in Europe at least, in its infancy. It is a testament to the transformational advances in treatment and care in recent years that the notions of cancer survivorship and rehabilitation are becoming ever more prominent in today’s policy discussions. For example, several academic papers have called for better social and employment policies to support cancer survivors and their employers to enable their return to work. At ESMO, the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) and ESMO launched the ESMO–ECPC Survivorship Guide, to foster a dialogue between cancer patients and healthcare professionals to help patients return to a ‘normal’ life. It includes a checklist that may help ensure each patient has a survivorship care plan that considers rehabilitation, late effects and second cancer prevention, as well as a smooth return to work as appropriate.
The fact that we can talk about cancer survivorship is, of course, a huge cause for celebration. Many patients whose prognosis previously would have been very limited may now have the hope of living ‘with or beyond cancer’ – often for many years, and with very good quality of life. Some patients may be on treatment for the rest of their lives – but still able to enjoy life. Others may be lucky enough to be considered in long-term remission or ‘cure’ – although this term is still used with great caution in cancer care.
Thinking beyond survivorship
It is so important, however, to remember that survivorship is not available to everyone. One in every three people diagnosed with cancer does not survive more than five years. All of us working in cancer policy or advocacy must always keep in mind the diversity and individuality of the cancer patient experience. I recall, for example, doing work on metastatic breast cancer and reading that, for many women living with the as-yet-incurable condition, the month of October – where the world goes pink and brandishes the pink ribbon representing hope and survival – fills them with dread, as it reminds them of their ‘failure’ to achieve survivorship. These women feel forgotten, or lost, in their cancer experience.
As advocates, researchers, scientists and clinicians, we need to fight for better diagnosis, care and support for patients and their families at every stage of their care, and after-care. This includes recognising the risk of patients feeling lost, forgotten or abandoned at any stage in their experience. We must always think of what matters most to patients – ensuring that no patient, current or former, feels abandoned in their efforts to gain control of their lives, despite cancer.
This blog post was originally published on the All.Can website.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.