As Cancer Mortality Rate Falls, Need for Survivorship Care Rises

By Sara Bondell - June 05, 2020

Declines in smoking and improvements in early detection and treatment have resulted in a continuous decline of cancer death rates since its peak in 1991. The death rates have dropped 29% as of 2017, which translates to an estimated 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths.

With more and more people surviving cancer, survivorship care is more important than ever.

“One of the struggles we have as a nation is the gap in care when cancer patients transition from the oncologist to their primary care doctor,” said Dr. Smith Pabbathi, director of the Survivorship Clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center. “There are some challenges when it comes to effectively communicating and sharing information between the two.”

Moffitt’s Survivorship Clinic bridges that gap by coordinating care between the cancer center and community physicians, taking over surveillance care and providing resources for long-term effects of treatment.

Dr. Smitha Pabbathi, Survivorship Clinic Director
Dr. Smitha Pabbathi, Survivorship Clinic Director

“We really want to address all those pillars of survivorship care,” said Pabbathi. “We want to make sure patients understand the surveillance regimen and help them with a wide range of symptoms they may have from their treatment. For example, patients exposed to systemic chemotherapy can be at higher risk for heart failure, so we want to keep an eye on that.”

Long-term effects aren’t only physical, but also mental and psychosocial. More than half of cancer survivors report a fear of relapse, which can increase anxiety and depression. The clinic hopes to alleviate some of those fears by putting together a comprehensive care plan for future care and focusing on cancer prevention.

More than 42% of newly-diagnosed cancers are preventable. While half of those are due to smoking, the other half can be attributed to things like increased body weight, unhealthy eating, alcohol and sedentary habits. The Survivorship Clinic offers nutrition and wellness counseling to combat risk factors that could contribute to a recurrence of cancer.

As cancer mortality rates continue to decline, Pabbathi says survivorship care will need to be prepared to manage more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young adult and adolescents and diverse populations without access to care.

“These groups have specific needs that fall outside the traditional cancer patient, and we will need to be prepared to pay more attention to those needs and manage them,” said Pabbathi.

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