In the past, cancer diagnoses only led to one of two outcomes: beating cancer, or not. However, over the last couple decades, things have become a lot less black and white. In fact, with recent scientific breakthroughs, many individuals diagnosed with cancer are living long and happy lives.
Many of these individuals have chronic cancer, which like other chronic medical conditions, is closely watched and continuously treated but never considered medically cured.
“There have always been chronic cancers, but recent advancements in treatments like immunotherapy and targeted therapy have helped patients with late-stage cancer live longer,” says Savitri Skandan, MD, medical oncologist and Associate Chief, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg. “My colleagues and I have patients with metastatic cancer who are more than 10 years out from their initial diagnosis, and they are still doing incredibly well.”
We know that receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult enough. On top of that, finding out that your cancer is considered a chronic condition can raise concern. We’ve answered some of the most common questions we hear below:
What types of cancer are considered chronic?
There are a few types of cancer that are more likely to be considered chronic, including certain ovarian cancers, leukemias and lymphomas.
Also, some types of cancer that have spread to other parts of the body (metastasized), including certain types of metastatic breast and prostate cancer, are considered chronic.
“When I first tell my patients that they have been diagnosed with a chronic cancer, I try to drive home the point that their condition is treatable. Just because we can’t cure it doesn’t mean that we don’t have options,” says Skandan. “In fact, we will develop an individualized, comprehensive monitoring and treatment plan to help them live longer and improve their quality of life.”
What will the goals of my cancer treatment be?
When you have chronic cancer, the typical goals of treatment often don’t apply. Instead, the focus is on helping you live longer with your condition while also improving your quality of life through appropriate monitoring and treatment.
“Our two most important goals are prolonging life and maintaining quality of life. Some cancers may be monitored, but eventually, most patients will need treatment,” says Skandan. “Once we reach that stage, our goal is to control the cancer while also keeping any treatment side effects from affecting your day-to-day life.”
What should I look for in a cancer care team?
Chronic cancers require continued care, and because of that, it’s very important to find a team of clinicians you trust and feel comfortable with. An exceptional care team also will connect you to various supportive services, including nutrition counseling, smoking cessation, mental health services and palliative care services.
It’s also beneficial to find a health care organization that offers a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. This approach includes teams of cancer experts from different subspecialties who work together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
“Having access to clinical trials is also an important part of treatment for chronic cancers,” says Skandan. “As we manage your illness, new options may become available through advancements in research. Being at a health care institution that offers these advances can be incredibly beneficial.”
Caring for chronic cancer at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute
At Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, we offer patients with chronic cancers the latest treatments, either as standard-of-care therapies or through our network of clinical trials.
Our clinicians also see patients as part of specialized multidisciplinary clinic teams, giving you access to multiple specialists from various disciplines.