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Guest Blog Post: Access to Supportive Care and the Changing Needs of Patients in the Last Twenty Years

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Today, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting kicks off in Chicago, Illinois. The Annual Meeting brings together 30,000 oncology professionals from around the world to present the latest ground-breaking research in the cancer space.

To commemorate the start of this key event, CancerCare Education Program staff and guest bloggers Caroline Kornhauser, MPH, Dawn Zador, and Sarah Quinlan, BA, take a look back at how access of cancer patients to supportive care has improved in the last twenty years, and examine the changing needs of patients over this time period.

During the past twenty years, there has been an increase in cancer survivorship, with greater attention to overall quality-of-life and access to supportive care*. Major scientific, technologic, and psychosocial innovations have occurred in the assessment and management of side effects, pain, palliative care, and emotional distress. These improvements have significantly improved the quality of life and survivorship for many.

In addition, increasing use of the internet has enabled more patients and caregivers to access information, helping them become more informed consumers of cancer services and allowing them to communicate online with members of their health care team. The internet currently offers a wide variety of support services, providing patients with access to telephone and online support groups, counseling, and financial services. With the Affordable Care Act, people living with cancer and survivors now have access to more screening and early detection, and treatment and supportive care services.

While the availability of supportive care has improved over the last twenty years, it is important to remember the obstacles and challenges that many people still experience. These obstacles to access to care include living in rural areas, poverty, low socioeconomic status, and language, cultural and racial barriers. Moreover, the following populations still encounter particularly daunting obstacles to accessing supportive care: young adults, older adults, caregivers, LGBTQ individuals, and children and teens whose loved ones have cancer. To enable all individuals to access supportive care services, these barriers need to be addressed.

Just as there have been increases and changes in access to supportive care, these have been mirrored in the needs of people living with cancer. As people become increasingly educated regarding their cancer diagnosis, the stigma of cancer may diminish. This shift is exemplified by the fact that in many cases, people and their health care teams are prepared to more openly discuss cancer. This is significant as the number of people living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis has continued to increase as the population ages. Over the past two decades, with a growing number of people living with cancer, more palliative and supportive care programs are emerging and a greater understanding of quality-of-life and side effect management is developing.

In summary, much has evolved over the past twenty years, reacting to the needs of patients with cancer and their caregivers, specifically with access to supportive care services. These advances are unparalleled in the history of the treatment of cancer, but more efforts need to be made to continually address the needs of all patients and fill in the missing gaps.

*The National Cancer Institute identifies that the goals of supportive care are to prevent or treat as early as possible:

  • Cancer symptoms
  • The side effects caused by treatment
  • The psychological, social and spiritual concerns, and problems related to cancer or its treatment

A version of this article was originally posted on the website of The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

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