Survivorship Care Plans ‘May Empower’ Survivors of Cancer

A survivorship care plan (SCP) is crucial to have after standard treatment. However, recent research suggested that many survivors of cancer — regardless of whether they are survivors of adult or childhood cancer — do not receive SCPs as they transition into survivorship.

Previously, a study published in the journal, Cancer, demonstrated that survivors who received SCPs were more likely to regularly attend their cancer-related follow-up care visits, compared with survivors who did not receive SCPs.

CURE® spoke with expert, Rebecca Hill, a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales Sydney in the School of Clinical Medicine in Sydney, Australia, and co-author of the respective study from Cancer. Her PhD investigates the impact of survivorship care plans on survivors of adult and childhood cancer.

“A survivorship care plan (SCP) provides a summary of an individual’s cancer and treatment history and a schedule of any follow-up tests or appointments they need in the future,” Hill said. “It may also include a list of any late effects they should look out for after their cancer treatment, services that may be able to provide support and general advice about how to live a healthy life.

“SCPs are important because they provide useful information about an individual’s cancer and treatment, and ways to look after their future health. It will help survivors and their doctors to know which appointments or follow-up tests they may need in the future and who should provide this care.”

Hill further explained the benefits of having SCPs, why they are essential to have today, the proximal and distal (short- and long-term) outcomes pertaining to SCPs and more.

CURE®: How can survivors acknowledge and understand the importance of receiving a SCP following the end of their treatment? What are ways providers can communicate this to survivors?

Hill: Our research suggests that despite the benefits of SCPs, many cancer survivors report not receiving a SCP. It is important, therefore, that survivors receive a SCP. Previous studies have suggested that SCPs can include medical terminology that may be difficult to read, so it could be useful for survivors to ask questions and for providers to explain SCPs in language that is easy to understand.

How can SCPs benefit the lives of family members and loved ones?

SCPs may help family members and loved ones to better understand survivors’ cancer and treatment, and how they can look after their future health.

We found that parents of survivors of childhood cancer who received a SCP, compared to those who did not, were more aware of cancer-related follow-up care, had fewer unmet information needs about “follow-up care required” and “possible late effects” and were more satisfied with their child’s cancer-related follow-up care.

Can you elaborate on the proximal and distal outcomes pertaining to SCPs?

Proximal outcomes are directly impacted by the effectiveness of SCPs, such as whether survivors are getting the follow-up information they need. Distal outcomes are impacted by many other factors as well, such as survivor’s lifestyle and major life events. Quality of life is an example of a distal SCP outcome.

Our study found that SCPs may positively impact cancer survivors, and parents of childhood cancer survivors. In terms of proximal outcomes, we found that cancer survivors and parents who received a SCP, as compared to those who did not, had greater attendance at, and awareness of, cancer-related follow-up care. They also had fewer unmet information needs about “follow-up care required” and “possible late effects.”

In relation to distal outcomes, SCPs may be beneficial to the quality of life and satisfaction with cancer-related follow-up care of some cancer survivors and parents. Specifically, we found that receiving a SCP predicted better global quality of life for survivors of adult cancer, health-related quality of life for survivors of childhood cancer as reported by parents, and satisfaction with follow-up care for survivors of childhood cancer and parents.

Given that more people are surviving cancer and living longer into survivorship compared to the past, why are SCPs so important today?

As more people are surviving cancer and living longer into survivorship compared to the past, there has been more research focused on survivors’ quality of life and long-term follow-up care. Many survivors experience long-term health issues from their cancer and its treatment, known as late effects. Cancer-related follow-up care is recommended to manage and monitor these late effects, which may be mitigated by early intervention. SCPs are important as they are one strategy to help survivors receive the follow-up care that they need.

Can you elaborate more on how SCPs can lead to better global and health-related quality of life?

Our study found that survivors of adult cancer who received a SCP, compared to those who did not, had better global quality of life. Parents who received a SCP, compared to those who did not, also reported that their children had better health-related quality of life.

It appears that SCPs may empower cancer survivors to look after their health and ensure that they receive the follow-up care they need.

What takeaways or advice would you give survivors of cancer regarding SCPs?

Cancer survivors should ask their provider for a SCP if they do not have one. Cancer survivors should keep and look at their survivorship care plan to make sure they have the follow-up tests and appointments they need.

This transcription has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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