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. Fred Saad,Chief of urology, CHUM.
“Life after cancer” for my patients with prostate cancer varies tremendously. Historically, in the case of prostate cancer, it was almost taboo to admit the disease had struck – given all the misconceptions regarding virility and manhood that accompanied the diagnosis.
A lot of work had to be done on several fronts to dispel the myths surrounding this disease. It is rewarding to see that many men are now able to talk about their diagnosis and help others to open up. This evolution has allowed public awareness of the disease to increase tremendously. The search for new information about prostate cancer has triggered an onslaught of information from many sources including the media, the web, books, etc. We have gone from rags to riches in this disease in terms of information.
Now, the problem for the patient is how to make sense of all the available information. Prostate cancer is not one disease but has many faces, which leads to confusion when some patients receive chemotherapy while others receive surgery or radiation and why some patients may safely be observed without any therapy at all. Patients have the hard task of dealing with cancer. They also need to understand that for most newly diagnosed cancers, there are options and decisions that must be made. These decisions have to be made actively with the treating physician. Doctors have to help guide patients towards the right information for their particular case and must take into account patient priorities and expectations. Patients deserve this and must insist on getting answers to their questions.
Over the last twenty years I have found that patients who are well informed prior to treatment and throughout the course of their disease become true partners in the battle. They should not be watching by the sidelines. Cancer patients need to be front and center during every decision in the management of their disease.
Obviously, for physicians this relationship takes time to develop with patients but I believe it is time well invested. A diagnosis of cancer, in most cases, implies a long-term relationship between doctor and patient. That relationship must be built on trust which comes from sharing as much honest information with patients as possible.