Cancer survival – reflecting on current research and the role of hospice and palliative care

Categories: Care.

On Friday, Macmillan Cancer Support and the National Cancer Intelligence Network published new figures which show that there are almost 10,000 children in the UK currently living with a cancer diagnosis.

Last month Cancer Research UK released figures which show that survival has improved for all children’s cancers – the number of children surviving cancer for five years or more has risen from 79% to 82% in the last decade. And just yesterday (18 December) they published new research showing that cancer death rates have dropped by 20% over 20 years.

Earlier this year, Macmillan drew attention to the increasing number of adults who are living with the affects of ‘surviving’ cancer in the UK. The charity estimates that over 500,000 cancer survivors in the UK are experiencing long-term debilitating health conditions caused by their cancer and its treatment, including both physical and mental effects.

Now Macmillan is calling for more to be done to support the thousands of children living with cancer in the UK.

Many children who survive cancer end up with an increased risk of other health conditions. These can include problems with growth and development, heart and lung conditions, and for some, an increased risk of developing second cancers.

Child cancer survivors also experience increased anxiety post-treatment. Almost one in five (18%) parents have said their child lost confidence or was anxious about returning to school because of their cancer.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “This research shows us for the first time how many children are living with cancer in the UK. While many children will go on to survive their diagnosis, we know the impact of cancer does not stop when treatment ends.

“More must be done to support the thousands of children living with cancer in the UK. Far too often they end up lost in the healthcare system and are not receiving appropriate and timely follow-up care. Adult specialists and GPs need to know how to manage the side-effects and lifestyle changes that can affect those treated as children.”

Role of hospice and palliative care

Cancer survivors challenge hospice and palliative care services to think differently about their role in supporting these people, according to Professor Jessica Corner, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Southampton. 

In an article originally published in the Hospice Information Bulletin in early 2012 and later on ehospice, she highlights that there are many people with progressive cancer who are cancer survivors and experience high levels of symptoms and have unmet needs. She points out that they can be socially isolated from family and friends because of their disease and may have quite deep emotional needs, yet are not receiving any sort of palliative or supportive care because they are ‘too well’ or because they are not close to the end of life, which, Professor Corner points out, is difficult to determine.

She went on to pose some searching questions for hospice and palliative care services and challenged them to consider how they might find a way to answering them:

  • How should hospice services respond to the changing picture of cancer survivorship?
  • What role should hospices play in supporting people earlier in the disease trajectory?
  • Cancer is becoming a ‘chronic’ illness – how should hospices adjust to this?
  • What does it mean to support long-term living with cancer?
  • What does ‘healthy’ dying look like in this new era?
  • What is tomorrow’s business for hospices?

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