Cancer survivors are the focus of University of Cincinnati medical partnership

UC teams with Ohio State and Indiana University

Three major Midwest universities, including University of Cincinnati, are teaming up to educate hospital professionals about what comes after cancer treatment: survivorship.

UC, Ohio State and Indiana University have created the Midwest Consortium for Cancer Survivorship, Education and Research to focus on educating caregivers about cancer survivorship and how to deliver care to those who have endured cancer treatment. The first workshop will be held on UC’s campus in November.

“If we look at the training programs, there’s not a lot that happens in the Midwest, and there are 60,000 cancer survivors in Ohio alone,” said Janet Snapp, an administrator with Ohio State's cancer center.

There are 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S., according to UC, and that number is expected to grow to 18 million by 2022.

Treating "survivorship” means minding the physical and psychosocial symptoms that can occur  after cancer is eradicated from a patient.

The project will combine educators, researchers and practitioners to develop an education program that will begin with nurse-practitioners, who are often on the front lines of care.

“This is really starting a new phase of the cancer trajectory, not active treatment, but after surgery or chemotherapy…” said Beverly Reigle, director of the UC Cancer Institute’s Cancer Survivorship Program. “Survivorship is all the way through the end of life. It’s the phase all through, from diagnosis on,” she said. 

The side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, the primary cancer treatments, can be delayed and cancer reoccurrence is often a risk, Reigle said. If an organ is partially or completely removed, this could also cause complications later in life. The direct effects of chemotherapy, such as hair loss and nausea, usually end once the treatment ends.

The psychological difficulties encountered by cancer survivors include poor body image, sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue.

“Survivorship is about looking at the patient as more than their diagnosis, looking at them holistically,” Snapp said. This includes looking at specific health risks attached to treatment, but also paying attention to functioning normally at work and in the home.

There's not enough training provided to people who must monitor all these factors, Snapp said. “If you look nationally, there’s not the robustness that needs to be in place,” she said.

Treating cancer survivorship is not a new field, but with a growing number of people needing care, Reigle says it will become more specialized. “It’s not that it’s not addressed at all,” she said, “but it’s not a specialty, and that’s what it will become.”

Reigle said nurse-practitioners will be the first priority, since “in a lot of hospitals, that is the model (of health care delivery) used… we want to be sure that those individuals are well-educated.”

The location of the courses will rotate and may be held at IU or OSU next time. Although the curriculum is still in discussion, the first workshop will focus on survivorship as a field and possible health effects that should be monitored, as well as how to deliver care effectively.

The UC Cancer Survivorship Foundation is helping fund the consortium currently, though there hasn’t been much need in these early days, Reigle said. Long-term, the program may charge for classes or apply for grant funding.

“In educating the provider, we are providing them with the information they need to be educating the patient,” Reigle said. The other option is to hold direct meetings with the public and patients and provide survivorship information that way.

Later on, the consortium will look at what interventions will be most helpful for conditions like emotional distress and fatigue, and when they should be introduced to be most effective, Snapp said. There are general guidelines and suggestions in place, but more research needs to be done.

“Truly, we want it to be patient-centered care and we want them to reach the highest level of wellness and quality of life,” Reigle said.

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