What is Cancer Survivorship?

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March 22, 2023
Cancer survivor applies lipstick with a smile

At Arizona Oncology, we understand that cancer impacts every aspect of our patients’ lives, with effects that can last for a long time after initial therapy is completed. Here we answer some common questions about cancer survivorship and our survivorship program.

Am I a cancer survivor?

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, yes! You are considered a cancer survivor from the day of your diagnosis until the day of your death from any cause. You do not have to wait for a certain number of years, or be considered free of disease, in remission, or cured to be a cancer survivor.

What are some challenges that cancer survivors face?

Our survivors can experience the effects of cancer and cancer treatment in nearly every domain of their lives, including physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual. Some of these issues include fatigue, body image problems, nutritional alterations with weight gain or weight loss, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, fear of recurrence and worsening depression and anxiety. Certain chemotherapy treatments are known to increase risks for cardiovascular or lung disease or promote the development of secondary cancers. The experience of individual survivors is unique, however, and varies a lot from survivor to survivor; it is not uncommon that two cancer survivors of a similar age and cancer diagnosis have very different longterm effects and concerns following treatment. The challenges faced by survivors can depend on the diagnosis and treatments received, age at diagnosis, other co-existing health issues, individual coping skills and quality of a support network among other factors. This is why having a personalized survivorship visit and care plan is so important.

What will happen during my survivorship clinic visit?

First, we will review your diagnosis, cancer treatments received and any related symptoms or health issues you are experiencing. I prepare a written treatment summary and care plan for all survivors, which many patients find useful. This document outlines the frequency of follow up, the potential long term risks  or complications which may occur, and what to expect going forward with your ongoing care, including expected schedule for follow up imaging, doctor visits and/or blood work. I also send the treatment summary and care plan to primary care providers, as keeping your relationship with a primary care provider is an essential component of healthy survivorship.  

At your visit, we will also discuss wellness, quality of life and healthy lifestyle recommendations. We review schedules for cancer screening tests and vaccinations. Survivorship care is very much guided by to your personal situation and health goals. For example, I may assist one survivor with tools and prescription medicines to help with quitting smoking, while another survivor may be dealing with marital stress and need a referral for counseling. It is my goal that all cancer survivors have the tools and resources necessary to achieve the best health possible, so we often discuss nutrition, stress reduction techniques, and benefits of exercise. I also assist my patients in connecting with local community organizations, support groups, and other medical specialists as needed.