An increasing recognition of the importance of caring for people who’ve lived through cancer treatment has sparked a relationship among three Midwestern academic medical centers.
Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University have created the Midwest Consortium for Cancer Survivorship Education and Research with an aim to better equip nurses, doctors and others to help patients moving forward from cancer treatment.
The remnants of cancer and its treatment are physical and mental, and a growing body of research is focused on improving the understanding of both.
Leading authorities on cancer care are pushing for better-coordinated and personally tailored care for post-treatment patients, including individualized cancer survivorship plans that take into account likely long-term side effects of treatment.
There are more than 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States, a number that the American Cancer Society expects to grow to nearly 18 million in the next eight years.
Their quality of life — and their caregivers’ well-being — depend upon having physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs met, said Dori Klemanski, clinical director of survivorship for the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital.
“Our goal is to help empower them and offer support and resources, and to help guide them to the right resources,” she said. “There’s a greater recognition of the patient as a whole person.
“Their entire life is affected by the cancer diagnosis. It affects their loved ones and support system.”
The partnership will include regular training for health-care team members and collaborative research.
Holly Cheek, vice president of cancer services for Indiana University Health’s cancer centers, said the work of the three universities will ultimately have a much broader reach.
“It’s not just about us. It’s about everyone who delivers cancer care in the Midwest. We want the quality of that care to be as high as it can be,” she said.
Primary-care doctors — and general oncologists, for that matter — can’t possibly keep up on all the advances in understanding about survivorship care, making it important for those who are focused on post-treatment care to guide them, Cheek said.
There are questions about long-term health effects, such as bone loss, lymphedema and heart problems, as well as how nutrition and exercise fit in. And the answers continue to evolve, she said.
“The quality of the life that you are preserving is important. If the treatment is curing you but causing you to have lifelong pain or cognitive dysfunction, then the quality of life is not as good as we would hope,” Cheek said.
“Nonmedical treatment options to mitigate effects of insomnia, pain or chemo-brain … will be huge.”
Advance-practice nurses are playing a critical role in this area, said Beverly Reigle, director of cancer survivorship for the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute. The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer, which sets standards for oncology care, has included cancer survivorship plans in its criteria for accreditation.
That means there’s a mandate now connected to a recommendation in the seminal 2005 Institute of Medicine “Lost in Transition” report on the matter, Reigle said.
The Midwest group’s first workshop is scheduled for November in Cincinnati.
Reigle said her goal is to maintain the relationship and continue to build upon it indefinitely.
“We need to do it. Survivorship care really leads to a higher quality of life for the patients.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.