Cancer Survival: Longer Lives, Unmet Needs

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Giving Cancer Patients Choices Empowers Them

Hardy said the Society of Integrative Oncology, the academic group for physicians like her who combine traditional and non-traditional approaches to cancer care, invites patients to its conference to incorporate patients' perspectives into treatment. "They have as much as a vested interest as we do," she said. "It becomes a very fruitful way to have discussions about what to do and how to do it."

Cancer doctors need to let their patients make choices about what's important to them, whether it's preserving their hair or preserving their fertility, Hardy said. In the past, she said, "the oncologists were saying, 'We're saving your life. What's the problem?" while bald patients would be saying, 'I'm devastated. I don't look like myself.'"

Today they can ask to wear "cool caps" during chemotherapy to reduce hair loss. Those patients who want to preserve their ability to give birth can arrange to have their eggs preserved, or fertilized embryos saved. "Whether that's successful or not, it mitigates your grief to know you did everything you could," Hardy said.

Hardy said she's especially attentive to preserving lean body mass in breast cancer patients because once they lose it, it's hard to get back. "I have them eat more protein and continue to exercise during treatment," she said.

The combination of dietary changes and exercise helps with energy and stamina, reduces nausea and lessens "the likelihood of one of the nasty side effects of breast cancer treatment, which is persistent fatigue, which can last years after treatment," Hardy said. "I start preparing to make that less likely to happen at whatever stage they come in. I'm thinking, 'What do I need to do today, what can I do to make the survival less difficult and more likely to be a long and happy one?'"

LiveSTRONG and the American Society of Clinical Oncology can help patients develop their own survivorship care plans. Information about the Cancer Support Community's signature survivorship program, Cancer Transitions, is available through help@cancersupportcommunity.org.

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