Q&A Topic: Cancer Survivorship
Alfred Tinger, MD, FACRO
Q. What is cancer survivorship?
A. The Institute of Medicine defines a cancer survivor as anyone diagnosed with cancer from the day they are diagnosed. However, there are at least three phases of survivorship: 1) from the day of diagnosis through initial treatment; 2) from initial treatment to long-term survival or relapse (which is where we need to continually improve our therapies); and 3) long-term survival and enjoyment of life (which we foster at every phase of a cancer survivorship journey). Of course, we might also think of people close to the person with cancer as cancer survivors because this diagnosis does not only affect the patient. Family members, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances may have emotional trauma, but they are not included in the cancer survivor category. There are 14.5 million cancer survivors, by this definition, in the United States today. There are about 1 million in New York State alone.
Q. What is a survivorship care plan?
A. A survivorship care plan is a suggested blueprint for the patient, their oncologists, and their other physicians to follow. The plan takes into consideration their cancer, their particular individual treatment, and the amount of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy they may have received. It includes recommendations not only for any needed follow-up laboratory, radiologic, and physical exams, but also recommendations for wellness care. When we speak about wellness we mean, at the least, the importance of a well-balanced life, proper nutrition, rest and exercise, sleep, physical and emotional rehabilitation, and stress control. We believe such a comprehensive approach is invaluable to patients, their families, and the other physicians involved in their care. In the past, patients frequently felt like they were abandoned when they finished their active treatment. With a defined follow-up plan, patients often feel like they will continue to be followed closely.
Q. Why should I participate in a survivorship program?
A. There is a “new normal” after a cancer diagnosis and treatment! A comprehensive program assists patients in adapting and accommodating to that new normal. One-third of cancer patients have unmet medical (general medical care), psychosocial, daily living, and financial issues. Being connected to our Northern Westchester Hospital Cancer Survivorship program provides cancer survivors access to professional help under the auspices of a well-meaning and very competent Community Cancer Program, accredited by the Commission on Cancer.
Q. What should I look for in a Survivorship Program?
A. A well-rounded Survivorship Program provides other services in addition to cancer-specific follow-up and recommendations. For example, our Cancer Survivorship and Health and Wellness programs offer health coaching, integrative medicine (acupuncture, Reiki, M-technique, reflexology), nutrition counseling, fitness programs with an exercise physiologist, and mindful wellness-psychosocial support with a psychologist or social worker, as well as smoking cessation and yoga. As part of Northern Westchester Hospital’s overall Health and Wellness programs, our Cancer Survivorship Program is offered free of charge to address the challenges that can affect a survivor physically and emotionally.
Northern Westchester Hospital
Chief of Radiation Oncology
Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center
Learn More About Dr. Tinger
Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System).