Back February 23, 2017

The Cancer Survivorship Symposium: A Recap for Breast Cancer Survivors

In late January, physicians and advocates of breast cancer survivors attended the 2nd annual Cancer Survivorship Symposium: Advancing Care and Research event in San Diego. The conference, hosted by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, aimed to explore topics concerning the needs of cancer survivors, such as long-term effects of treatment and surveillance for cancer recurrence.

In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the symposium related to breast cancer patients and survivors.

Presentations on Breast Cancer Survivorship

What I wish I had known: Young breast cancer survivors reflect on their experiences after breast cancer surgery1

Young breast cancer survivors wished they were more prepared to deal with the challenges of breast cancer survivorship beyond diagnosis – such as physical experiences, psychological impact, and adjustment to everyday routine –as they candidly expressed in a focus group. When asked about adjustment to a “new normal,” the women shared that each day is different. According to one survivor:

There’s definitely times where I’m like, ‘Oh, I wish I had my breast back.’ You know, in terms of like…when I go shopping for a bra… in the grand scheme of things, like, it’s a small price to pay… But there’s definitely days where it’s like, ‘Oh, I wish I could just have my body back.’1

Another survivor shared:

“So even though you hear it, you know, and they kind of describe what to expect, it’s so… so much information at the time when you’re processing so much that I think it’s hard to… visualize.. or really absorb everything.”

Presenters from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and University of Rhode Island noted the themes that emerged from the focus group’s responses, which related to pain, length of recovery, and interactions with their health care providers. The findings illustrated a need for survivors’ health care teams to provide clear communication about what to expect after surgery in an effort to help with the transition back to life after breast cancer.

For additional information on finding your new normal after breast cancer, see our 5 tips for breast cancer survivorship.

Breast cancer survivorship: State of the science2

A team reviewed existing medical literature to identify gaps in research impacting breast cancer survivors.. As it turns out, most studies related to survivorship are still exploratory in nature. While the broad area of cancer research is an established discipline, researchers are still trying to understand issues unique to cancer survivors.

This highlights the need to further study specific survivorship issues, like the impact of aging on treatment of post-cancer conditions. Assessments like this, and understanding where the research gaps are, help guide new research to meet the needs of survivors.

Survivorship Care Plans & Individualized Treatment

A number of poster presentations focused on the need for individualized treatment for cancer survivors, particularly studies looking at survivorship care plans (SCPs). An SCP is how doctors refer to follow-up care for patients with a history of cancer. Themes emerging from the conference illustrated potential areas for improvement when addressing survivors’ treatment plans.

For example, the needs of a breast cancer survivor are not “one size fits all,” and can change over time. A poster titled “Development of phase-specific breast cancer survivorship care plans,”3 suggests that SCPs focused on specific phases of a woman’s treatment, e.g. assessment of continuing anti-estrogen therapy after 5 years, etc., can be valuable in addressing the changing needs of individuals.

These studies underscore the need for individualized treatment plans for breast cancer survivors, mirroring important clinical trials presented at SABCS.

Genetic Findings in Cancer Survivorship

In a general session entitled, “Dealing with Genetic Findings in Survivorship,” attendees heard from physicians about the importance of genomics in cancer treatment, and how to integrate genetic information into clinical cancer care.  This session was particularly timely following data presented at the recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS)*, which received a lot of follow-up discussion about the importance of genomic testing in making informed treatment decisions for breast cancer patients.

*The B-42, DATA, and IDEAL trials presented at SABCS also outlined the importance of personalized treatment among breast cancer patients. Assessments of extended anti-estrogen therapy with aromatase inhibitors (AI) among postmenopausual women indicated that treatment with an AI therapy for more than 5 years will likely not be recommended by most physicians for all patients. To learn more about the trials, visit our blog summary.

Social Media Buzz

If you couldn’t attend the conference, there were plenty of online conversations taking place during and after the event. Attendees from the Symposium shared their experiences on social media using the hashtag #SURVONC17. Social media coverage focused on emerging themes from the event, including the need for patient-centered care for cancer survivors, how to improve the implementation of survivorship care plans, and the importance of collaboration between primary care doctors and oncologists.

Cancer survivors and patients attending the event also took to social media to mobilize for next year’s Cancer Survivorship Symposium in Orlando, in efforts to include even more patient voices and perspectives.

Did you attend the symposium, or follow coverage from the event? What are your thoughts on the data presented, or topics covered? Share with us on social media with the hashtag #BeWisER. 

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  1. J Clin Oncol 35, 2017 (suppl 5S; abstr 180)
  2. J Clin Oncol 35, 2017 (suppl 5S; abstr 45)
  3. J Clin Oncol 35, 2017 (suppl 5S; abstr 61)