Cancer survivors are a growing population in the United States, with over 16 million Americans living with a history of cancer as of 2021, according to the American Cancer Society. While we celebrate advances in cancer treatment and the increasing number of survivors, it's important to recognize that cancer and its treatment can have long-term impacts on survivors' health and well-being. The recent study published in JAMA Oncology highlights the alarming increase in cancer survivors reporting functional limitations, which can significantly impact their quality of life.
Functional limitations refer to difficulties in performing daily activities, such as walking, dressing, or grooming oneself, due to physical, emotional, or cognitive impairments. These limitations can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, chronic disease, and disability. In the case of cancer survivors, functional limitations may be the result of cancer treatment, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, or the cancer itself.
The study led by Vishal R. Patel from the University of Texas at Austin used data from the National Health Interview Survey to examine trends in functional limitations among U.S. cancer survivors from 1999 to 2018. The findings reveal a concerning increase in the number of survivors reporting functional limitations, with a more than twofold increase from 1999 to 2018. During the same period, the number of cancer-free individuals with functional limitation also increased, albeit at a slightly lower rate.
The study's authors note that the increase in functional limitations among cancer survivors is a significant issue that requires attention from care teams, researchers, and policymakers. They emphasize the need for care teams to understand and address function in survivorship care, as well as for researchers to evaluate function as a core outcome in clinical trials. Additionally, they call upon health systems and policy makers to reimagine survivorship care, recognizing the burden of cancer and its treatment on physical, psychosocial, and cognitive function.
The study also highlights the disproportionate impact of functional limitations on certain populations, including Hispanic and Black survivors and those aged 55 to 64 years. The adjusted prevalence of functional limitation among survivors was highest for pancreatic and lung cancer survivors, which are known to have poorer survival outcomes and higher rates of treatment-related side effects compared to other cancer types. On the other hand, survivors of melanoma, breast, and prostate cancers had the lowest adjusted prevalence of functional limitation.
These findings underscore the importance of addressing the long-term impacts of cancer treatment on survivors. While cancer treatment can be life-saving, it can also have significant physical, emotional, and cognitive effects that can persist long after treatment is completed. It's crucial for care teams to provide comprehensive survivorship care that addresses not only the physical effects of cancer and its treatment but also the psychosocial and cognitive effects.
There are a variety of resources available to cancer survivors to help them manage the long-term effects of cancer treatment and improve their quality of life. The American Cancer Society's Survivorship Resources page provides a wealth of information on survivorship care, including managing late and long-term effects of treatment, finding emotional support, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship also offers resources and information for survivors, including survivorship care planning tools and information on survivorship research.
In addition to these national resources, many cancer centers and healthcare providers offer survivorship programs and resources for their patients. These programs may include survivorship care planning, support groups, physical therapy, and other services to help survivors manage the long-term effects of cancer treatment.
In conclusion, the increase in functional limitations among cancer survivors is a concerning trend that requires attention from all stakeholders involved in survivorship care. By addressing the long-term impacts of cancer treatment and providing comprehensive survivorship care, we can improve the quality of life for cancer survivors and support them in living healthy and fulfilling lives after cancer.