As a result of earlier detection and improved treatments, cancer survival statistics have dramatically increased. Some survivors may live with cancer as a chronic disease requiring periodic treatments, while others may go into long-term remission. As many survivors have learned, recovery is often not the end of the cancer experience. Toxic cancer therapies can leave you with late effect health issues that require lifelong surveillance and recovering from the social, emotional and financial trauma of cancer is a process that doesn’t always end with the last treatment.
After years of focusing on treating cancer, researchers, clinicians and advocates are now recognizing the unique challenges that survivors face once treatment has ended. This need has resulted in a number of cancer survivorship programs being developed across the country, dedicated to providing comprehensive and sustained after-care specific to cancer survivors. Many of these survivorship programs are also designed to meet the needs of pediatric and young adult cancer survivors, who because of their young age at the time of diagnosis, struggle with physiologic and psychosocial effects different from those of older cancer survivors.
One such program, the Survivors Taking Action & Responsibility or STAR program found at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center works in conjunction with the STAR program at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago to meet the needs of adult survivors of pediatric cancer. Patients are referred to the STAR program five years after diagnosis if they remain in clinical remission and are directed to a network of supportive services specific to this demographic. STAR program survivors have a number of concerns depending on their particular treatment regime which often include fertility questions. The STAR program links these survivors up with reproductive specialists, allied health professionals and support groups to help navigate family planning.
The Cancer Survivorship Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is another program that recognizes the important issue of fertility as it relates to long-term quality of life. The Cancer Survivorship Program at CHOP is very invested in offering fertility preservation options to the patients and families who are seen in Oncology. Oncofertility Consortium member and Reproductive Endocrinologist, Clarisa Gracia, MD, MSCE, sees many of the individuals in this program to offer potential ways to preserve fertility and to discuss family planning for individuals whose fertility has been compromised as a result of treatment.
For more information about nationwide survivorship programs, please visit the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. You can also visit the National Cancer Institute for a list of additional survivorship resources, including publications, studies, and statistics.