Friday, March 11, 2011

Living a long time with cancer

Ask anyone who has had cancer and there is no diploma for graduating from the cancer life, you are stuck with it for life. After living with cancer for nearly 30 years (yes really - officially 30 this summer) and only having one other pesky little diagnosis nearly four years ago, I can tell you I know all about it. In fact, I am not sure I know how to live without cancer but that is another story.

In case you have been sleeping for the last 24 hours, another study (yes another but this one is a tiny bit useful) was released by the CDC, officially called The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Cancer Survivors - United States 2007.

Since I know everyone is so happy to slog through a combined medical/government document, I will recap. People are living longer due to earlier diagnosis, better treatment protocols, and an aging population.

I have three tiny problems with this article
- one it took four years for it to be released - like all studies it talks about things in the past and not current
- I don't like the term survivor - its a label, please use 'people living with cancer' instead.
- I can't figure out the first chart. Is that age at diagnosis or age now? I assume age at diagnosis.

But I digress. On several levels this is very encouraging that people are living longer with cancer and that the importance of recognizing the long term needs of life with cancer are being openly recognized:

"The increasing number of cancer survivors underscores the need for medical and public health professionals to address the potential long-term and late effects of cancer on survivors' physical and psychosocial well-being, provide survivors with coordinated care, and promote the importance of 1) healthy behaviors (e.g., smoking cessation and physical activity) to reduce the risk for new or recurrent cancer and 2) early detection to increase the likelihood of survival with new or recurrent cancer."

But we still do not have a cure. And the fact that cancer treatments and protocols often leave us with physical limitations and long term health consequences. For example, it is very common that Stage IV cancer people are given CT scans every three or four months to monitor their insides. However the life time risk of radiation exposure does not appear to be a consideration for this group of people. If CT scans are to be avoided because they expose the patient to 200 times the radiation of an x-ray, and then they are given so frequently, is the assumption there that it is a non-issue as the lifetime expectancy of the patient is considered to be decreased as they are stage IV?

However, it is nice to know I am not alone. There are 1.1 million people like me who have lived with cancer for over 25 years.


Anonymous said...

Hi Caroline! I am nearly done reading The Emporer of All Maladies and it is absolutely fascinating and brilliant. I highly recommend it to you. Robin

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