Report calls for needs of 200,000 cancer survivors to be prioritised

Minister acknowledges need for resources to support growing numbers living after cancer

Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged   resources would be needed to address the requirement of cancer survivors. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged resources would be needed to address the requirement of cancer survivors. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The physical, psychological and financial needs of almost 200,000 survivors of cancer are not currently being met, according to a report prepared for the National Cancer Control Programme.

Evidence of unmet needs is cited in the report across a spectrum of cancer types, including: pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance; a fear of recurrence; a need for greater access to support services.

Other needs were sexuality-related or stemmed from information deficits or financial hardship, according to the report prepared by the National Cancer Registry Ireland and the Irish Cancer Society.

Others were specific to particular cancers, for example, urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction in men with prostate cancer, or bowel dysfunction among colorectal cancer survivors.

Many of these unmet needs do not exist in isolation, but are related to one another and commonly related to the treatment received rather than the disease itself, the report notes.

Survivors

Publishing the report on Monday, Minister for Health Simon Harris acknowledged the number of cancer survivors was rising as treatments became more effective, and that resources would be needed to address the requirement of survivors. He said he “won’t be found wanting in ensuring the Government steps up to the plate” on the issue.

“For too long, the needs of people who survive cancer have not been prioritised. This is because the focus has been on survival, rather than the lives of those who have survived,” noted Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society.

“There is often the expectation cancer survivors will return to “normal life” once their treatment has stopped. However, many experience long-term side effects and other challenges for years afterwards. Others, with currently incurable cancers, may remain on treatment for the rest of their lives.”

Louise Mullen, the lead for cancer survivorship in the National Cancer Control Programme, acknowledged not everyone identified with the term “survivor”. “Cancer patients often tell us that they feel ‘set adrift’ after their active treatment for cancer is complete. This is a time that people need support for self-management and alleviation of physical and psychological symptoms which have persisted.”

Treatment

Ms Power said it was critical cancer survivors are provided with tailored support programmes specific to their cancer and treatment type, to meet their unique personal, emotional, practical and social needs.

“At the same time, further research is needed, particularly into the needs of survivors of less common cancers. Otherwise, there is a risk of widening inequality between survival rates, treatment options, research investment, stage of diagnosis and socio-economic profile of different cancers.”

Four reports were compiled as part of the National Cancer Survivorship Needs Assessment, including one focusing on the specific challenges faced by survivors of childhood cancer.

The five-year survival rate for all invasive cancers has improved from 44 per cent in the 1990s to 62 per cent now. However, it is estimated one quarter of survivors will have one or more physical or psychological consequences of their treatment that affects their life in the long term.