Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The State of Survivorship

endocrine tumor specialists at the Mass General Cancer Center

Inga lennes, MD, clinical Director of the cancer center's survivorship program

The Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program launched almost a year ago with a mission to provide treatment, counseling and support for patients and their loved ones facing the challenges of living with and beyond cancer. Since then, the active clinic has helped more than 60 patients from all disease centers.

Lennes and Elizabeth Davis, MD, have seen patterns emerge among their patients. The most common issues they discuss in clinic include everything from the physical side effects of treatment; like fatigue, neuropathy, “chemo brain,” and sexual dysfunction; to emotional issues such as anxiety and depression; to lifestyle challenges, like restarting an exercise routine.

“What we’re finding is that patients appreciate the opportunity to talk to Dr. Davis at length about these quality of life issues,” says Lennes. “They expect their oncologist to focus on the cancer treatment, but that doesn’t mean these other issues don’t exist. That’s where our program can help step in and make sure that the whole person is being cared for.”

Working closely with each disease center and other supportive services like the HOPES Program, the Survivorship Program aims to provide a “bridge” to resources within and outside of the Cancer Center. Lennes explains, “Our hope is that every patient is evaluated for every service that can possibly help them, and connected with the right resource.”

Upcoming Projects and Goals

  • Develop consensus guidelines, endorsed by each disease center, to help standardize survivorship care.
  • Maintain a list of internal and external resources that can help patients with each specific issue.
  • Implement a Cancer Center survivor survey in order to create the Survivorship Collected Repository of Symptoms, a database that will help guide future research.
  • Become completely integrated into each disease center.
  • Begin relationships with survivors sooner in the treatment process. These “early survivorship visits” are being piloted with breast, thoracic and GI cancer patients to address quality of life issues during treatment and build relationships that will continue once active treatment ends.
  • Continue to grow the Survivorship Program – ideally adding a nurse or nurse practitioner to the staff – through the help of generous philanthropic support.

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