We asked our Current Oncology Section Editors how they would define the term “life after cancer” and how that theme presents itself in their chosen fields. Below is a response from Dr. George Shenouda, Department of Radiation Oncology, Montreal General Hospital:
Since the turn of the century, cancer has become the leading cause of death in adults. Due to an aging population and advances in screening and early diagnosis, more and more patients will be diagnosed and cured from their cancers. These patients will undergo oncological treatments which have a significant impact on the rest of their lives.
In addition, there have been major and innovative therapeutic strategies with increased potential of cure. Therefore, as the numbers of cured patients increase, a significant proportion of these patients will survive.
Head and neck cancer is a good example to illustrate the magnitude of such post-treatment changes affecting the surviving patients. The anatomical location of such cancer affects many vital functions, such as breathing, and swallowing. In addition, the cancer and its treatments lead to a significant impact on the patient’s social interactions by affecting speech and communication. Patients become anxious, depressed, and suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. They develop issues with body image, and become socially isolated. They also have to face the potential loss of income.
The role of the health professional team treating cancer patients is to identify stress factors, and to provide support to their patients during, and after cancer treatment. The follow-up of cancer survivors should include a special attention to their psychosocial needs in addition to the regular medical follow-up. Patients should be provided with resources to help their adjustments to life after their cancer is cured.