Health officials estimate there are 13.7 million cancer survivors nationwide. That number continues to increase year over year, and along with it the need for cancer survivors to develop a plan for maintaining their health and reducing the secondary health risks that may result from cancer treatment.
Development of a health plan is something that every cancer survivor should do to support their long-term health. University of Minnesota Cancer Care Hematologist/Oncologist Anne Blaes, MD, who is also our Cancer Survivorship Program director, outlines the cancer survivorship care plan.
“The survivorship care plan is one of the most important aspects of cancer care, because it guides your healthcare after acute treatment is completed,” Blaes said.
The treatment summary should also include contact information for the providers and treating institutions. The care plan is intended to be an at-a-glance summary that includes the most pertinent information of the months—sometimes years—of treatment to be shared with a patient’s current or future health care providers.
Follow-up care plan
The follow-up care plan includes guidelines for cancer survivors to monitor and maintain their health. Cancer survivors have a different set of health risks due to the nature of the disease and treatments. In some cases, one cancer diagnosis can put you at risk for secondary cancers and other health risks like heart disease, infertility or weight gain.
For example, breast cancer patients who received radiation to their left breast have a slightly higher risk for heart disease. We recommend that patients in this category receive ongoing heart health assessments.
Childhood cancer survivors who received chemotherapy or radiation may be at higher risk for several long-term complications from prior treatments. The period of time just before and during puberty is a particularly important time for many childhood cancer survivors. During this time, their survivorship team will closely monitor their growth and development. The signs and symptoms of hormonal long-term complications are extremely varied and can be as subtle as fatigue, or more pronounced, like short stature.
“It’s critical for childhood cancer survivors to continue care in a survivor-focused program,” said Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist, Karim Sadak, MD, MPH, MSE, who is also the director of the childhood Cancer Survivor Program.
The Cancer Survivor Program is available to all cancer survivors regardless of age, diagnosis or where they received cancer treatment. Adult cancer survivors are eligible three or more years after completion of their cancer therapy. Childhood survivors are eligible five years after diagnosis or three years after blood and marrow transplant.