Even years after cancer enters remission or is cured, the story is not necessarily over. There is evidence from multiple sources showing that side effects and related issues can linger, causing ongoing problems for cancer survivors. Bringing this little-known problem into the light of day can help cancer survivors deal with the issues head-on for an even better outcome.
In a recent study from a team of University of Texas and University of Central Florida researchers, 1,514 cancer survivors were surveyed either 2-, 5, or 10-years after their successful treatment. Each patient reported an average of 2.88 post-cancer issues, including anxiety about cancer recurrence, physical problems (such as chronic pain), financial repercussions from treatment, and/or personal control issues (such as the inability to control urine and a lack of sexual function).
So now that problems are becoming more widely known, the next step is to take action to resolve them. For their part, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed a program to address post-treatment cognitive trouble – AKA “chemo brain” – in women who were treated for breast cancer.
Chemo brain is reported by up to 35% of women. This study relied on five weeks of sessions involving psychoeducation and cognitive exercises for women who completed breast cancer treatment from 18 months to five years earlier. Memory strategies were taught, along with other tools to improve executive brain function. Homework exercises and practice activities were included for hands-on practice of these cognitive tools.
Another set of women served as controls (although they were also offered the sessions after the study was completed). In comparing the groups, the women receiving the therapy improved significantly in terms of memory, learning, recall, and overall cognitive function.
The take-away here is two-fold: yes, there are more potential long-term issues for cancer survivors than previously understood; but there are also ways to, at least partially, resolve these issues once they are identified.
Burg MA, Adorno G, Lopez ES, et al. Current unmet needs of cancer survivors: Analysis of open-ended responses to the American Cancer Society study of cancer survivors II. Cancer 2015;121(4):623-30.
Ercoli LM, Petersen L, Hunter AM, et al. Cognitive rehabilitation group intervention for breast cancer survivors: results of a randomized clinical trial. Psycho-Oncology 2015 online doi: 10.1002/pon.3769