Columns for The Lufkin News

A New Era of Cancer Survivorship

Posted May 05, 2015 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

We are surviving cancer in greater numbers than ever!

The American Medical Association's new oncology journal, JAMA Oncology, presented encouraging statistics in their inaugural issue on how many of us survive cancer. Some cancers have seen a lot of progress over the last 20 years. For example, patients aged 50 to 64 years and diagnosed with colorectal, breast, liver, and prostate cancer from 2005 to 2009 were 39% to 68% more likely to survive than similar patients diagnosed between 1990 and 1994. The article also pointed out that certain subgroups - the elderly, and African Americans - are not seeing as much improvement. Disparities in healthcare remain one of our greatest challenges in the United States. I have addressed this previously, but for today, I want to focus on the survivors.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 14.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2014, not including carcinoma in situ (non-invasive cancer) of any site except urinary bladder, and not including basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. It is estimated that by January 1, 2024, the population of cancer survivors will increase to almost 19 million: 9.3 million males and 9.6 million females.

I recently spoke at the Polk County Relay for Life Survivor's Dinner, and this weekend will speak at one for Crockett/Houston County. American Cancer Society Relayers are passionate about the fight to end cancer and remembering loved ones lost to cancer, but they are equally passionate about recognizing and honoring survivors. If nothing else, these dinners remind me that survivors are the everyman. And as such, survivors want nothing more than to live their lives with cancer in their past, not with side effects or debilities that are constant reminders of what they have been through to get where they are.

For the field of oncology - the study of cancer and how to treat it - this new focus on what happens when we cure cancer is both refreshing and eye-opening.

What does it mean to survive? Surely it means more than just to live, more than just to carry on despite the hardship or trauma of cancer. Today, when you can buy survival guides for anything from zombies and global warming to ballroom dancing and Disney queue lines, we very much risk cheapening the word. And how about the "take no prisoners" approach of the reality television Survivor series? Being the last man or woman standing is not the goal, either. Cancer survivorship is about all of us reaching the goal!

I believe that successful cancer survivorship has much to do with attitude. I see it all the time. Patients with a positive mindset suffer less! Negative patients can talk themselves into any side effect and can let the burden of cancer treatment weigh so heavily on them that they simply can't function. Having strong support systems in place can help; surviving cancer is a cooperative effort which ideally should include not only the patient and the medical team, but the family, friends, caregivers, support groups as well.

We have entered an era where it is no longer good enough to cure cancer. We must cure with the least toxicity possible, all the while staying concerned with the cost of cancer treatment both for the patient and for society. And, we must ensure that these advances are available to all patients, regardless of race, ethnicity, income.

Are you or is someone you love going through cancer treatment? Get involved in Relay for Life! Survive? Thrive! Find an event near you at relay.acsevents.org.

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Meet Our Team

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Radiation Oncologist

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Radiation Oncology Nurse

Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

Lead Radiation Therapist

Aimee Salas, RT (T)

Aimee Salas, RT (T)

Radiation Therapist

Josh Yarbrough, RT (R)(CT)(T)

Josh Yarbrough, RT (R)(CT)(T)

Radiation Therapist

Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

Dosimetrist

Linda Miller, MS

Linda Miller, MS

Medical Radiation Physicist

Evelyn Leach

Evelyn Leach

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