What is survivorship care?

After cancer patients go through their treatment, what happens next for them? This is the time when survivorship care is important. “Survivorship care deals with any consequences of the after effects of surgery, radiation and general chemotherapy,” shares Lovelace Breast Care Center provider, Dr. Katherine Lee. “Survivorship care is really a blanket term for people who are going through treatment and what happens to them afterwards, in terms of what their follow-up care looks like.” At the Lovelace Women’s Hospital Breast Care Center, every survivor is automatically enrolled in the survivorship program, which gives each patient a specific follow-up plan based off of their diagnosis and treatment, taking into consideration what surgery the patient had, whether the patient had radiation, and if so, what type and how much, and more.  

So why is a survivorship care plan important? “We have seen many women who have had recurrences, where the cancer comes back,” says Dr. Lee. “There is a higher likelihood of the breast cancer coming back in ladies, so they should be screened routinely. We want to catch the cancer while it is still inside of the breast, because once it leaves the breast, it is no longer curative. For that reason, it is very important to be vigilant and check routinely. I believe survivorship has several phases. Phase one is the time when the patient is going through the diagnosis until the end of their treatment and phase two is going through the after effects of their treatment. This phase technically doesn’t fall under the patient’s primary care provider’s responsibility to check and ask questions about side effects or symptoms to determine whether the breast cancer is coming back or has spread to other parts of the body. This is why we offer survivorship care at Lovelace because someone needs to be asking and answering these questions.”

What is the difference between survivorship care and follow-up? “Follow-up appointments are mostly post-surgical, post-chemotherapy or post-radiation,” says Dr. Lee. “Those appointments will end at some point, and it’s usually within a few months, not years. Also, sometimes those appointments aren’t made yet because the patient isn’t ready for that specific phase, so what the survivorship plan does is put it all on paper for the patient. That way the patient can see, read and know when they are due to see who, what, where, when and why. Sometimes the patient sees so many doctors, they don’t know who to contact to ask what is next, so the survivorship plan takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. We can actually make those specific appointments for the patient if necessary and remind them when it’s time for certain screenings or check-ups. The main goal of our survivorship care program is to assist the patient in their care. We know there are a lot of different things going on and it can be hard for the patient to focus on just one thing when they have a lot of concerns. We want to help decrease their anxiety.”

Also included in the survivorship care program are several additional resources provided by Lovelace. “We have yoga for survivors, nutritional consultations, psychological support if someone needs to see a therapist and much more,” shares Dr. Lee. “There are a lot of things that go into survivorship that aren’t just appointments or treatments and we really want to treat the whole patient mentally and physically. This program allows us to show the patient that they are supported and how much we believe in them. We want them to be happy and be checked on because we are partners in their health care and want to work together to give them the best care we can.” 

To learn more about the Lovelace Women’s Hospital Breast Care Center and survivorship, please click here. To learn more about Dr. Lee, please click here