Cancer doctors are doing a better job of keeping people alive, but some physicians, like Patricia Ganz of UCLA, say they need to vastly improve their care for all those survivors.
“Many individuals, after having had cancer, are given the message that they should be grateful to be alive,” Ganz says. “But the lost opportunities in terms of jobs, having children, scars and pain may make life difficult for them.”
Susan Leigh remembers when her doctor declared her free of Hodgkin's disease 34 years ago.
“I was just filled with questions,” she says. “Like, ‘What's next? What do I do to stay healthy? What do I do to keep the cancer from coming back?’”
She got so few answers that she became an activist fighting for better care for cancer survivors.
Fifteen years after her first cancer, she experienced one of the biggest hazards for long-term survivors: a second cancer brought on by treatment for the first.
“I felt a lump in my breast and was quickly diagnosed with breast cancer,” she remembers.
A big focus of a meeting of cancer specialists in Atlanta is better care for survivors.
“It will be the medical oncologist who will say, ‘You know, this is really what went on, and these are the things that we need to look out for in the future,’” says Ganz.
But there are big questions, such as whether insurance companies and Medicare will pay these cancer doctors for all that extra care that would take up a lot of their time. Leigh and other survivors are fighting to get the reimbursement.
“We can in fact survive — even other cancers,” Leigh says. “We can survive, but we've got to be followed in a systemic way.”
It is, she says, the next big step in the war on cancer.