According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer survival is at the highest it has been in years, with an estimated 12 million survivors living in the United States. As scientists and doctors find more and more ways to improve treatments and ultimately work closer to a cure for the disease, the number of cancer survivors is expected to grow.
Oncologist, Dr. Keith Block suggests that cancer survivors take a more pro-active approach to their post cancer care and develop a remission maintenance plan that offers cancer survivors a personalized program to control their health, restore vitality and protect against the cancer returning. “Understandably, after hearing that they (the patient) is ‘in remission,’ patients may want to retreat psychologically to a ‘cancer-free’ zone and never think about the disease again,” says Dr. Block. “But this is why they shouldn’t,” adds Dr. Block. “Cancer is as much a microscopic and molecular disease as it is a visible one. Thus, a patient in remission may still harbor malignant cells (ones that were resistant to chemotherapy or radiation). These cells unfortunately have the ability to show up with a vengeance, even when one least suspects.”
“Controlling, preventing, and overcoming new cancer outbreaks are more do-able than ever,” says Dr. Block. “We have developed many new procedures to help patients prevent their cancer from coming back by looking at the malignant cells of cancer survivors and testing them to address how to contain them and evaluate the proper treatments.”
Dr. Block suggests aggressive monitoring especially in the first year or two after remission. “We recommend that in the first year after remission, the patient has clinical visits with their oncologist at least every three to four months in the first and second year, and every six months for the next several years,” recommends Dr. Block. “The patient should also have scans and blood tests of tumor markers every three months, complete blood count and chemistry tests every three months, a nutrition evaluation, including weight changes, body composition and albumin levels every three months, and internal terrain monitoring (where the cancer can develop) every three to six months for the terrain factors that are most problematic,” advices Dr. Block.
Dr. Block’s other recommendations include:
- Clinical visits with your oncologist, at least every three to four months in the first and second year and every six months for the next several years.
- Scans and blood tests of tumor markers every three months.
- Complete blood count and chemistry test every three months.
- Nutrition status, including weight changes, body composition, and albumin levels, every three months.
- Internal terrain monitoring, every three to six months for the terrain factors that are most problematic.
- While monitoring, there is no reason to wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop, so immediately implement a full integrative program.
- Make sound dietary changes toward adherence of a whole foods diet.
- Reduction in dietary fat has already been shown to cut recurrences in different cancers. Controlling refined flour, sugar and junk food is a necessary step to avoid the recurrence risk of elevated blood glucose and spiking insulin levels.
- Introduce aerobics, strength and flexibility training into your daily schedule. Yoga, Pilates, chi gong or any number of fitness approaches is an essential step towards recurrence prevention. Considerable research supports that risk, response, recurrence and outcomes are tied to physical care.
- Mitigate stress through progressive relaxation, meditation, or simply easing the load on an excessive work schedule. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with poorer outcomes in breast cancer patients. So do what it takes to transform less healthy patterns.
- Get rest and adequate sleep. The more active you are in the daytime, the better you’ll sleep at night. Few of us get enough sleep.
The Livestrong Care Plan, designed for survivors of adult cancers, summarizes the potential late effects of cancer treatments, offers recommendations for post cancer screening, ways to deal with the psychosocial effects, possible financial issues, healthy lifestyle recommendations, and effective prevention options, including referrals for follow-up care and support groups.
With a pro-active approach, you can feel in control of your post cancer care and begin a new, healthier life, cancer free.
Take the Live Strong Care Plan Questionnaire.