People are now living for many years with cancer
Many people who are diagnosed with cancer today will not be cured but may survive for years with the disease, according to a leading oncologist.
Dr Jennifer Westrup, medical director of the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, said: "We don't want people to be cancer victims or living with a disease where they cannot get on with their lives."
She said that while 20,000 are diagnosed with cancer here annually, there are now 110,000 survivors and their needs must be recognised.
Dr Westrup is among the speakers at the Living Well with Cancer conference on survivorship organised by the Irish Cancer Society, which will take place tomorrow and on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium.
"Cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis. It includes people who continue to have treatment to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease," she pointed out.
"The need to recognise cancer survivorship was first seen in the United States.
"There are a lot of issues that face them - medical issues, psycho-social issues, spiritual, sexual and lifestyle issues."
The huge fear factor on diagnosis can still strike people. But there are now many more survivors.
This is due to improved screening, better treatment, improved supportive care and new targeted therapies.
It was acknowledged that doctors were not looking after these other concerns.
"Some people get out the other end and are paralysed by fears of recurrence. Every ache and pain they see as a new cancer. We need to deal with that."
It's why oncology requires a multi-disciplinary approach
Dr Westrup said: "In the Beacon, we started an oncology nursing counselling programme, for instance.
"We offer counselling free to patients and refer them to psychotherapists or psychiatrists if needs be."
However, she said it was open to all cancer patients to avail of a range of high-quality, free services which were now on offer by cancer charities.
"They provide a great support service - everything from mindfulness to yoga."
One of the areas which needs to be looked at is the economic burden of cancer survivorship.
This can involve direct costs, such as medical insurance or transport.
"It's important to note that 63.5pc of survivors were found to return to work in an analysis of 64 studies," she said.
However, the evidence from the United States is that more are on unemployment disability, they have more missed work days and are more likely to retire early.
Dr Westrup said survivors could benefit from practical tips, adding: "There is no diet proven to prevent cancer, or increase survival time."
But studies suggest:
- Get adequate vitamin D.
- Eat fruit and vegetables.
- Do not eat much red meat.
- Decrease sugar intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
She advises patients on the benefits of moderate intensity physical activity, which decreases the risk of cancer death and all deaths. They should also stop smoking and limit alcohol.
She added: "Nobody likes this diagnosis but everybody has access to support services. Look at cancer support groups' websites. Whatever hospital patients are treated in, there is a lot of information out there."