Between 1971 says and 2007, the number of cancer survivors in the United States nearly tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that number continues to rise.
“Cancer survivorship is really a new and exciting area,” says Stephanie Gregory, MD, a hematologist/oncologist at Rush. “With more and more patients beating their disease, now we have to focus on addressing some of the long-term health issues that can arise in patients who have had cancer.”
The majority of these patients are older than 65, and many of them live long lives after their diagnoses: In its 2007 study, the CDC found that more than 1 million people alive at the time had been diagnosed with cancer at least 25 years earlier. That means many older adults must deal with such issues as the effects of past treatments (anti-estrogen therapies, for example, can impact bone health) the potential for cancer recurrence and the stress this potential can cause.
At Rush, cancer specialists help older adults navigate these matters with the goal of improving patients’ lives and catching cancer recurrence or other problems early, when treatment is most effective.
A Clinic Just for Survivors
Gregory, for example, recently collaborated with colleagues to launch a weekly survivorship clinic — part of The Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Lymphoma Clinic — that offers lifelong follow-up care to lymphoma survivors and patients with indolent, or slow-growing, lymphomas. An annual visit to the clinic involves a physical examination, any necessary psychosocial services and screening for potential side effects of past cancer treatments.
For example, survivors who had combined chemotherapy and radiation, which can lead to an underactive thyroid, undergo thyroid testing. “Some late effects, particularly of older treatments, are just coming to light now that patients are living long enough for them to appear,” Gregory says. “So by keeping a close eye on these patients and addressing potentially life-threatening complications as soon as they arise, we help patients lead even longer, healthier lives.”