Needs of cancer survivors must be addressed

170,000+ survivors living in Ireland
  • Deborah Condon

There are over 173,000 cancer survivors in Ireland and this number is set to double over the next 25 years, a new report has revealed.

According to the National Cancer Survivorship Needs Assessment, Living With and Beyond Cancer, cancer survivors face a number of challenges and action needs to be taken to better address both their needs and the needs of their families.

The assessment notes that both cancer and its treatments can have a range of adverse effects, including physical, psychological and social. Those affected may face an increased risk of developing chronic conditions, or exacerbations of pre-existing conditions may occur.

It said that while the majority of survivors live well, an estimated 25% "have one or more physical or psychological consequences of their cancer treatment that affects their life in the long-term and many more who have a shorter term symptom burden that needs addressing".

"This is not evenly distributed in the population of cancer survivors and those who are poorer, isolated, have co-morbid conditions, live alone or are elderly tend to have the greatest need," the assessment pointed out.

It noted that following acute treatment for cancer, most follow-up care is delivered in hospitals. However, there is a need to review this to ensure better integration between primary care, community care, palliative care and specialist services.

It said that follow-up care tends to be focused on surveillance and as a result, there can be unmet or undetected needs for physical and psychological care.

"Routine follow-up care and surveillance by standardised protocols individualised to the patient can be safely delivered in other settings with appropriate care planning. This would not only be of benefit to the patient, but can also relieve the burden on acute services as they can prioritise the delivery of timely and equitable treatment services to newly diagnosed patients," the report stated.

It said that a more sustainable model is needed, but to achieve this, "primary and community care must be supported to increase its involvement in follow-up care".

"More than 170,000 people in Ireland today have experienced a cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, our survival rates are increasing and while that is welcome, it brings its own challenges.

"We must ensure we provide comprehensive cancer care for patients in Ireland who are living with and beyond cancer. It is crucial that we provide the support required to allow people to manage the impact this has on them, their family, work and society," commented the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, at the launch of the needs assessment.

Also speaking at the launch, Louise Mullen, the lead for cancer survivorship in the National Cancer Control Programme, noted that cancer patients often feel like they have been "set adrift after active treatment for cancer is complete".

"However, this is a time that people need support for self-management and alleviation of physical and psychological symptoms which have persisted," she explained.

Minister Harris added that focusing on quality of life, rather than just surviving, "is a key concern of patients".

The assessments report suggests six areas that need to be prioritised and these include:
-Targeting services to meet the needs of specific groups and reduce inequalities
-Providing information for cancer patients and their families
-Building expertise to meet needs for symptom burden in the physical and psychological domains.

"It is incumbent on the healthcare system to respond to the needs of individuals living with and beyond cancer, and the needs of their families, in a more coordinated way," the review concluded.

It can be viewed here.


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