A Growing Commitment to Cancer Survivors

Guest Post by Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD

Thanks to decades of cancer research that have brought us groundbreaking discoveries and treatments, 15.5 million U.S. cancer survivors have more time to spend with their loved ones. That number is only going up, to an estimated 26.1 million by 2040.

For most of these survivors, their journey comes with complications and lasting side effects. Many continue to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional impact of their cancer diagnosis long after their final treatment. Thousands of survivors face financial challenges resulting from or made worse by their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

As the number of cancer survivors grows, currently representing nearly one out of every 20 people in the U.S., it is important to step up our efforts to address their issues. During my year as president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), I’ve made survivorship-related issues a priority. There is a pressing need to increase research on the long-term effects of cancer treatments and how best to mitigate adverse physical impacts on survivors. Furthermore, we need to develop effective strategies to address persistent gaps in supportive models of care, including cancer survivorship care plans to help survivors transition from their oncologist to their primary care practitioner with ease and limited anxiety.

For decades, the AACR has engaged with survivors and supported research on survivorship. The AACR Scientist↔Survivor Program (SSP)—conceptualized and implemented by AACR CEO Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), and Anna Barker, PhD, 20 years ago—is a model effort that builds enduring partnerships among leaders of the scientific, cancer survivor, and patient advocacy communities. The program offers advocates science lectures tailored to a lay audience, small group discussions, and other opportunities to exchange information on key aspects of cancer research, survivorship, advocacy, and public policy.

At its Annual Meeting in April 2018, the AACR sponsored a special panel titled “The Cancer Survivorship Landscape: Potential Focus Areas for the Future” in memory of Jimmie C. Holland, MD, a leading advocate for emotional and psychological support for cancer patients and survivors. Several cancer survivors and leaders in the survivorship field discussed the needs of this ever-growing cohort of people. The central theme that tied together all the recommendations coming out of the session was the need to provide more support: in connecting survivors to resources, in helping health care professionals better appreciate survivor needs, and in enabling researchers to better understand the biology of survival and evidence-based strategies for psychosocial support.

The AACR has made a significant commitment to grow the SSP and the Survivor and Patient Advocacy Program. As a first step, the AACR has brought on board a Director of Strategic Patient Advocacy and Engagement in its Washington, D.C., Office of Science Policy and Government Affairs. The director will build alliances with cancer survivor communities and patient advocacy organizations. Additionally, the AACR intends to help ensure that the perspectives of cancer patients and survivors are incorporated into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s drug evaluation process. With the move toward personalized medicine and patient-centered drug development, this could not be more important. I’m confident that the AACR will help lead the way in ensuring that the voices of cancer survivors are heard at all stages of the drug evaluation process.

The AACR hears the message from the survivor community loud and clear. As AACR president, I’m very pleased to say that we’re ready, eager, and committed to accelerating our leading role in providing improved support.

Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, is the president of the AACR and the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. You can read her complete column in the fall 2018 issue of Cancer Today.