Life After Cancer

Dr Jill Bennett, School of Nursing, University of Auckland

In New Zealand, the number of people diagnosed with cancer has been growing, but deaths caused by cancer have been steadily decreasing. Some cancers that were once uniformly fatal, such as testicular cancer, are now cured in nearly all cases. And many people who get common cancers – cancers of the breast, colon and prostate – become long-term survivors. The major forms of cancer treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and radiotherapy – have saved many lives, but these treatments can have unwelcome long-term effects. Even when cancer has been completely eliminated, many survivors have persistent problems, such as fatigue, anxiety about cancer recurrence, sexual difficulties, loss of bone density, balance difficulties, trouble concentrating and other symptoms.

Some cancer survivors also report financial and workplace difficulties as a result of their cancer experiences.

A study of issues faced by cancer survivors in New Zealand has recently been funded by the Cancer Research Trust with the aid of a donation from Westpac Institutional Bank. The Life After Cancer Study will provide an understanding of the issues faced by cancer survivors from the viewpoints of the survivors themselves. Cancer survivors will answer a written questionnaire developed by an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago in conjunction with cancer specialists from Auckland Hospital. The questionnaire will address many issues commonly reported by cancer survivors in other countries, with space for New Zealand survivors to mention any additional issues. The questionnaire will be revised during the study in response to participants’ feedback, and the final version of the questionnaire will be used for an even larger nationwide survey of cancer survivors.

Dr Jill Bennett, leader of the research team, says that finding cancer survivors in New Zealand is a significant challenge of this study, as there is no central registry that follows survivors after they complete cancer treatment. “When we talk about the study with cancer survivors, there seems to be great enthusiasm for the idea of answering questions about their experiences with cancer. Most survivors feel they changed in many ways after they were diagnosed with cancer and are keen to share their experiences in the hope of helping
other survivors.”

The Life After Cancer Study is an important first step in understanding the survivorship part of the cancer continuum. Knowledge gained from survivors who answer the questionnaire will be useful in making a persuasive argument for developing solutions to problems faced by New Zealanders who live long lives after cancer and cancer treatment

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