(HealthNewsDigest.com) – Many cancers are becoming more treatable. Soon, instead of just asking: “will I survive?” we’ll be asking: “what treatments are best for my future?” For example, the various treatment paths for prostate cancer can substantially impact life after remission. One treatment might leave a person with incontinence, and another might place them at higher risk for a secondary cancer. When survival issues recede, quality of life issues become more important. That’s why it’s important for those recently diagnosed with cancer to work with their doctors to think both short- and long-term about their treatment plan.
Survival Rates Rise
With better and earlier detection, precision medicine, hormone therapy, genetically-targeted therapies, immunology, as well as new chemotherapy and radiation approaches, cancer is ever more survivable. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer rose from 75% in 1975, to 90% in 2007. Similarly, prostate cancer survival rates grew from 69% to near 100% and childhood cancers rose from 62% to 81%.
For many different cancers, treatments that lead to survival often come with it life-long side effects, such as lymphedema (breast cancer), or incontinence (prostate cancer). Radiation has been associated with both an increased risk of cardiac diseases in cancers near the heart and a risk of secondary cancers. These issues are serious for anyone, at any age, but children, with decades left to live after cure, are particularly impacted by these issues.
What Can Patients Do?
Given that survival is achieved, quality of life rises in importance. What can a cancer patient do?
First, make sure your doctor understands that you care about life after cancer, not just survival. Doctors today take patient preference into account in a shared decision-making model. They want to know if a prostate cancer patient would rather face the risk of urinary incontinence or a secondary cancer.
Research new treatment approaches that reduce long-term side effects, such as proton therapy, a highly precise form of radiation that targets the tumor while sparing healthy tissue.
And talk to your insurance company about whether they take long-term side effects into account when they are approving treatments. Put them on notice that, as life expectancy rises, so do desires for a higher quality of life, and that customers are paying attention.
As more people take advantage of advances in cancer treatment, such as combination chemotherapy or immunotherapy, and as more people survive cancer, it becomes important for every patient to know what the implications of a treatment are on their long-term well-being, and to advocate for them in their treatment plan. Go to https://www.sccaprotontherapy.com/ to find out more.
Ramesh Rengan, MD, PhD, is the Medical Director at SCCA Proton Therapy Center in Seattle, Washington. He is internationally known for his work in treating lung cancer and melanoma. He is specifically interested in the integration of novel radiation approaches with immune therapies in the treatment of cancer. He also is the Associate Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a Radiation Oncologist at the University of Washington Medical Center. https://www.sccaprotontherapy.com/about/leadership