April 1, 2013 | by Hiu Chung So
With various cancer awareness months spread throughout the calendar year, the catchall-sounding National Cancer Control Month might seem a little redundant or nebulous. But even as annual cancer deaths continue to drop, it bears reminding that more needs to be done to keep cancer at bay.
That sentiment was stressed by President Barack Obama in an official proclamation marking April as National Cancer Control Month. In the proclamation, he wrote:
“Together, our Nation is moving forward in the fight against cancer. As we recommit to improving prevention, detection and treatment, let us honor the memory of the courageous men and women we have lost to the disease, and let us stand with all those facing it today ... I encourage citizens, government agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations and other interested groups to join in activities that will increase awareness of what Americans can do to prevent cancer.”
But for one clinician, cancer control is about a different kind of prevention: minimizing cancer treatments' chronic effects on the growing population of cancer survivors, currently 13 million in the United States.
“Cancer treatment increases the risk of health conditions ... including heart and lung problems, cognitive problems and musculoskeletal problems,” said Smita Bhatia, M.D., Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences. “It is imperative that cancer survivors be followed long-term in a specialized clinical setting.”
Bhatia, who also directs the Center for Cancer Survivorship, said that such programs should include personalized screening and management regimens to catch and treat complications in a timely manner. For example, chest radiation or chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines — especially when used on a younger patient — increase the risk for heart complications later in life; thus, survivors who had either treatment need to be monitored with regular echocardiograms and treated with appropriate medication if detected.
“Our cancer survivors also need to be made aware of the development of these complications," Bhatia said, "such that they can advocate for their own health in an increasingly complex health system.”
With continued education, research and advances, National Cancer Control Month won’t be a time simply for reminding and rededicating, but for celebrating. The president himself described the desired strides and milestones this way: “patients lifted up by the promise of remission, parents blessed with the chance to watch their children grow up [and] young people confident that a diagnosis cannot put a limit to their dreams.”