Better support system needed for cancer survivors

(NC) Canadian cancer patients are living longer than ever, with many patients now experiencing cancer as a chronic condition instead of an incurable disease. Did you know that 63 per cent of Canadian cancer patients live longer than five years after diagnosis, and that number rises to 81 per cent if they survive past the first year?

But a recent survey conducted by the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (CCSN) found that many of us think that only 47 per cent of patients live longer than five years. This gap in knowledge calls for a rethink of how the health care system can meet the long-term needs of people living with, and surviving, cancer.

“This requires a huge shift in the way we treat our patients,” says Jackie Manthorne, president and CEO of CCSN. “We need to make sure that people are aware of this change, and that our system adapts to meet the long-term needs of people throughout their cancer journey.”

While there are still many cancers that have poor survival rates, for many, it is a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment and support. Side effects can include nausea, lymphedema, low immunity, bone loss, heart disease and arthritis.

“The cancer treatment journey is radically different today from what it was even 15 years ago,” says Dr. Sandy Sehdev, medical oncologist at William Osler Health Centre in Brampton, Ont. “We're starting to see that patients are living longer, which is promising, but it means that they will continue to be reliant on therapies to manage the ongoing side effects and complications.”

In addition, patients often have to worry about whether or not treatment for these side effects and conditions are covered by their provincial health plans, with access to coverage and medicines frequently differing from province to province. The CCSN survey also showed that 85 per cent of Canadians believe that medicines to treat side effects of cancer should be publicly covered.

Everyone has great hope when it comes to finding a cure for cancer. But until that time, continued support – from diagnosis through post-treatment – is crucial for patients to live better and healthier lives.

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Source: Canadian Cancer Society's Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014. Canadian Cancer Society. 2014: 59.