Keeping Cancer Patients from Being Lost in Transition

At the end of treatment, cancer patients can feel relieved that the stresses and side effects are over.  But very often they feel lost, uncertain, afraid that regular scrutiny from their oncologists has ended and that something important may be missed.

The Cancer Survivorship Program at the Loyola University Medical Center is among programs designed to ease those fears and protect the overall health of cancer survivors as they move into the future.

Although survivors have fears that their cancer may return, they are also at risk for the ordinary medical issues that everyone has.  Keeping an eye on non-cancer medical problems is as important as follow-up for recurrence or for a new cancer.  Communication between oncologist and primary care provider is critical so that neither cancer needs or other medical problems fall through the cracks.

After formal cancer treatment ends, a nurse at Loyola meets with patients to review their diagnosis and treatment and list possible complications to watch for in the future.  They then see a psychologist who considers their emotional needs.  Finally they have a physical exam, x-rays, and lab tests to screen for possible complications from treatment.

At the end of the assessment, patients receive a written, one-page summary that includes their initial diagnosis, type of cancer, treatment regimens, possible side effects, surveillance recommendations for secondary cancers and a follow-up plan, which is updated over time. A copy  is sent to the doctor who referred the patient for treatment or their primary caregiver.

Dr. Patricia Robinson, who directs the Cancer Survivorship Program at Loyola, says,

If you go back to your primary care physician without a treatment plan, you may not be screened as frequently for cancer issues. If you stay with your medical oncologist, other primary issues may be overlooked. I usually say to patients that we complement and complete their oncology care.

The Institute of Medicine recommends such written plans and has a helpful Fact Sheet for patients that includes what should be included in the survivorship care plan.

Every cancer survivor should have a comprehensive care summary and follow-up plan once they complete their primary cancer care that reflects their treatment and addresses a myriad of post-treatment needs to improve their health and quality of life.

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