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Long-term problems persist for many cancer survivors, finds US study

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Many cancer survivors face physical and mental long-term challenges resulting from their disease and its treatment, even decades after being given the all clear, say US researchers.

The study authors suggest their findings could help clinicians develop interventions that are tailored to the specific types of problems and concerns that cancer survivors may experience.

“We found that cancer survivors are often caught off guard by the lingering problems they experience after cancer treatment”

Mary Ann Burg

Some experience continuing problems that can significantly impair their quality of life well beyond the “magical” five-year survival milestone, said the researchers in the journal Cancer.

Such problems and challenges can vary by the type of cancer patients had and the treatments they received, they noted.

To assess the experience of cancer survivors, they looked at the responses to a national survey, in which 1,514 respondents were asked about needs they had that were not being met.

“This study… gave a very large sample of cancer survivors a real voice to express their needs and concerns,” said lead author Dr Mary Ann Burg, from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Survivors most frequently expressed physical problems, with 38% saying they were an issue. Problems related to sexuality and incontinence among prostate cancer survivors were especially common.

Anxiety about recurrence was a common theme expressed by survivors, regardless of the type of cancer they had or how many years since successful treatment.

Dr Burg said: “Overall, we found that cancer survivors are often caught off guard by the lingering problems they experience after cancer treatment.

“In the wake of cancer, many survivors feel they have lost a sense of personal control, have reduced quality of life, and are frustrated that these problems are not sufficiently addressed within the medical care system,” she added.

She called for improvements in public awareness of cancer survival problems, “honest” professional communication about the side effects of cancer, and more resources to help survivors and their families cope with their “lingering challenges”.

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