Not every form of cancer can be cured. Sometimes the best outcome is living with cancer as a chronic condition, as one might with diabetes or heart disease. Controlling – rather than curing – cancer is more likely to be the appropriate course of action with these cancers: ovarian, chronic leukemia, some lymphomas, and metastatic breast and prostate cancers. The goal of “controlling” the disease often means preventing the disease from spreading or keeping the disease level the same. Sometimes the cancer will shrink, but it will still be there.
This can be hard news for a patient – who understandably would prefer complete eradication of all cancer cells – but in some situations, long-term control is the best outcome possible.
Owen O’Connor, M.D., Ph.D., a Professor of Medicine and Experimental Therapeutics at Columbia University Medical Center, spoke about this topic of controlling cancer at the International Workshop on Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Dr. O’Connor pointed out that some patients, especially those who are older, might not be able to tolerate aggressive chemotherapy. In such cases, a cure might not make the most sense – instead managing the disease becomes a more sensible goal. In these cases, controlling the cancer as a chronic disease (with a daily pill or a monthly IV treatment) could represent treatment success.
Quality of life definitely factors into the equation, especially now that new medications are available that offer a well-tolerated, convenient way to keep some cancers from progressing. It’s a new idea, but valid nonetheless, to consider certain cancers as chronic diseases that can be managed, rather than a disease to cure.
When cancer doesn’t go away. American Cancer Society May 20, 2014.http://www.cancer.org/treatment/survivorshipduringandaftertreatment/when-cancer-doesnt-go-away
Andrew Schorr. Managing cancer as a chronic condition. Patient Power September 23, 2014. http://www.patientpower.info/video/managing-cancer-as-a-chronic-condition/page/1/?utm_source=oncologytube&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign=LYM-2014-0121-09&utm_content=1033833