People who have cancer that has spread to more than one site are living longer now than they ever have before. In large part, this is thanks to better treatments like immunotherapy. However, there is almost no information regarding the non-medical challenges that people with these cancers face. The New England Journal of Medicine says studies have failed to report the financial, social, and psychological impacts of living with cancer. This recent article was written by Terry Langbaum and Thomas Smith, two professionals who are living with cancer.
Langbaum has survived four cancers over the past thirty seven years. He is currently living with sarcoma, which is a malignant tumor of the connective tissue. Smith, who is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is living with recurring prostate cancer. He’s gone through surgery and radiotherapy, where cancer is treated through X-rays.
Smith says his prostate cancer has changed his life forever. He suffers from severe depression and mood swings that have been brought on by his treatment. He thinks his experience is a clear example of how unprepared patients and doctors are for dealing with this aspect of cancer survival. The advanced treatments that save people’s lives have brought both hope and uncertainty.
The new therapies and combination treatments allow patients who would have lived weeks or months now live for years. 15-20% of people with lung cancer now live past the five year mark. Smith says that’s a luxury that nobody thought was possible.
A friend of Langbaum’s is in her seventh year of fighting pancreatic cancer. Despite multiple hospital visits, she’s been able to go about her normal life. Langbaum says he wants this group of people to be recognized as more than a group that’s waiting to die.
The financial burden of living with cancer is huge. Many of these new and developing treatments cost more than $10,000 a month. Langbaum’s new therapy costs $13,000 and also has a number of adverse side effects. This is representative of the overall trend, showing that more costs are shifting to the patient in long-term cancer survival.
Katherine O’Brien, a woman living with long term breast cancer, thinks that this group has been neglected because they are such a small percentage of the total population. O’Brien is an advocate for the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN), a group that tries to address some of these issues. MCBN is trying to work with academic experts to connect people living with long-term cancer and find ways to mitigate some of these problems.