June is National Cancer Survivor Month. In honor of that, Karim Thomas Sadak with the University of Minnesota answers questions about advances in cancer treatments, ways you can support a loved one who is a cancer survivor and more.
Q: What advancements in cancer treatments have been made in recent years?
Dr. Sadak: Some of the biggest advancements in recent years have been new strategies to intervene and either stop or reverse the long-term complications of cancer treatments, called late-effects. For decades, we were learning about what the late-effects were. Now the pendulum has swung, and we are focusing our research on preventing or catching these late-effects earlier. The use of certain medications, as well as physical medicine and rehabilitation treatments, are becoming interventions that can help keep a cancer survivor healthy and happy.
Q: What are some of the challenges cancer survivors face?
Dr. Sadak: A cancer survivor's journey is life-long and never fully ends. Because of this, the late-effects can present challenges across the physical, mental and social aspects of well-being. Some challenges are mental health-related and others are more subtle and related to neurocognition (i.e., how the brain works and processes information). Financial challenges can come into play and insurance-related barriers to care exist as well. The biggest challenge is probably that the risks are varied and cut across many different aspects of well-being and quality of life. With the proper care from a cancer survivor specialist, the challenges can all be addressed so a survivor is never alone in facing these challenges.
Q: What are things you can do to support a loved one who is a cancer survivor?
Dr. Sadak: Be an ally in all aspects of well-being. Friends and family that support each other in living healthy lifestyles, help each other in meaningful and lasting ways. Go for walks with your loved one, send messages of positivity, and sometimes it's just being a good listener for your loved one. Be present for your loved one, however and whatever that means to that person — make sure they know that they are not alone in this journey.
Q: What resources are available for cancer survivors?
Dr. Sadak: Many medical centers have medical teams that specialize in care for cancer survivors. Now that care can be accessed virtually, these care teams have professionals that can point a survivor in the right direction for any and all resources that may be needed and/or available.
Q: What are you doing to advance research helping cancer survivors?
Dr. Sadak: Health systems everywhere are complex and hard to navigate. We are doing the research to find ways to make it easier for survivors to get the care that they need and stay engaged in their survivor-focused care. We can’t let survivors slip through the cracks of our health systems when there is so much that we can do to help keep them healthy and having the highest quality of life. Our research will identify, create and test new and state-of-the-art ways to engage survivors and help them navigate their survivorship journey. Our research is informing how we deliver care ensuring that it is for survivors and by survivors.
Karim Thomas Sadak is the director of the Cancer Survivor Program for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Masonic Cancer Center member. His areas of expertise include providing care to childhood cancer survivors and transitioning childhood cancer survivorship care to age-appropriate settings for adolescents and young adults.