One of the newest challenges in cancer diagnosis and treatment today is the optimal care of cancer survivors. Thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment and enhanced general longevity, some 14.5 million people are now living in the United States after a diagnosis of cancer. The special aspects of cancer survivorship were brought into sharp focus nearly a decade ago with the publication of a report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies entitled “From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition.” This report described the special needs of cancer survivors who may live with health problems related to their cancer diagnosis and/or its management. This “problem” will only increase as it is estimated that 2 of 3 individuals diagnosed with cancer live at least 5 years. By 2024, it is believed that the U.S. population will include nearly 19 million cancer survivors–about half men and half women, thanks to advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers such as prostate and breast. According to the American Cancer Society, about 40 percent of male cancer survivors are living after a prostate cancer diagnosis while approximately 40 percent of female cancer survivors carry a diagnosis of breast cancer.
We at University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and UPMC CancerCenter think this is a good problem to face as we care for some of the 643,350 cancer survivors who live in Pennsylvania today. From the moment of diagnosis, we focus on how best to treat the unique cancer in the individual patient through a personalized care plan that does not end with completion of active therapy. We strive to ensure each patient understands his or her cancer and the potential consequences of its treatment, both immediate and chronic. We work in partnership with the patient's primary-care team to make sure that he or she receives both age-appropriate general medical care and cancer-specific follow up care that is tailored to the diagnosis, the treatment and the individual. We are working actively to make sure our care plans are harmonized with emerging national guidelines on this critical front.
All of these efforts are grounded in evidence and statistics. But they are made real in a very personal way each and every time we encounter a cancer survivor and reflect on what it takes for that person to live a life with or beyond cancer. Last month, for example, we saw and heard firsthand the power of cancer survivorship through the voice of Stephanie Townsell. A singer since childhood, Stephanie recently completed a course of therapy for treatment of lung cancer at UPMC CancerCenter's network location in Beaver County. It was a special moment for all of us when Stephanie stepped to the microphone at the Consol Energy Center on Oct. 30 to sing the national anthem before the annual “Hockey Fights Cancer” Penguins game. Her performance of the “Star Spangled Banner” honored America - and just before the pivotal 2014 election - but the true power of her performance was her ability to overcome the diagnosis and treatment of cancer to pursue her passion for singing.
Stephanie, like so many of our patients, is truly a living symbol of the millions of cancer survivors who take treatment in stride and go on with their lives. And we know now more than ever, with the number of cancer survivors on the rise, that our mission includes not only their treatment but their continued care. Our goal at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter is to do all that we can to help each patient make the journey as a cancer survivor.