Category Archives: Survivorship

Weight Gain during Cancer Treatment

By Michele Szfranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN


When I talk with people who have gained weight during their cancer treatment, they are often shocked. For people who lost considerable weight before their diagnosis and then felt better once their treatment started, weight gain can be a welcome change. But more often I speak with people who were at a healthy weight or overweight before treatment and did not realize that their treatment might cause some weight gain. [more]

Causes of weight gain

Many of the cancer patients with hormone based cancers like breast or prostate I speak to are surprised when they find they have gained weight after their treatments. Men on anti-androgen (hormone deprivation) therapy often gain weight in the first year of treatment. Women treated with adjuvant chemotherapy or who experience onset of menopause are most likely to experience weight gain.

Gaining weight after being diagnosed can give these patients a higher risk of the cancer returning. In fact, a recent study showed that men who gained about 5 pounds (2.2 kg) in the years after prostatectomy had higher rates of recurrence than those with stable weight. And for breast cancer, studies also suggest that weight gain after treatment can increase recurrence risk and decrease survival.… Continue reading →

ACS releases new data on survivorship

By Kevin Stein, PhD


June is turning out to be big month for cancer survivors. Not only did we celebrate National Cancer Survivor Day on the 7th, but the Society is also co-hosting the 6th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference June 14 -16 in Arlington, VA.


And the American Cancer Society has just released the first-ever Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures, the newest addition to our Facts & Figures publications. The report highlights the continued increase in numbers of cancer survivors in the United States. Survivors are defined as any person with cancer from the time of diagnosis on.


We estimate that there are now 13.7 million Americans alive today who have a history of cancer, and that this number is expected to grow to nearly 18 million by 2022. [more]


Much of this growth is related to the increase in the US population, but also to the fact that the fastest-growing segment of the population is persons age 70 and older, the age group when most cancer diagnoses occur. Close to half of all cancer survivors are over the age of 70, while only 1 in 20 is less than 40 years old.  Having said this, we do have to say that cancer can strike at any age.… Continue reading →

Just say no — to pain drugs?

By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN


We remember the phrase from the 1980s. It emerged from a substance abuse prevention program to teach students skills to resist peer pressure and other social influences. When Mrs. Nancy Reagan was visiting an elementary school in California and was asked by a schoolgirl what to do if she was offered drugs, the first lady responded by saying, “Just say no.”  Upon her husband’s election to the presidency, Mrs. Reagan outlined how she wished to help educate the youth, stating that her best role would be to bring awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.

Mrs. Reagan was talking about drug abuse among our youth- she was not talking about the appropriate use of drugs to treat cancer-related pain. Yet patients are hesitant today to take pain-relieving medicines for their pain, and caregivers are reluctant to give them. Many are afraid of addiction. Are their fears related to this campaign from the 1980s? Probably not, but we know it is very difficult to change people’s attitudes about taking pain-relieving medicines once those attitudes are formed. [more]

Is cancer pain a problem?

Yes it is. Pain is reported in about 25% of those newly diagnosed with cancer; in 33% of those undergoing treatment; and more than 75% of those with advanced disease.… Continue reading →

New healthy living guidelines for cancer survivors

By Colleen Doyle, MS, RD

In my work at the American Cancer Society, when I talk with people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, they tend to ask me 3 things: what can I do to reduce the chance that my cancer will come back? What can I do to help me not develop some other kind of cancer? How can I help my family members reduce their own risk for developing cancer?

For many years, answering questions 2 and 3 was a cinch.

We’ve known for years that for people who don’t smoke, the most important ways to reduce their risk of cancer are to strive to be at a healthy weight, live a physically active lifestyle, eat a diet made up mostly of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and watch how much alcohol is consumed (if any, at all).  As a matter of fact, a recent study published by ACS researchers showed that non-smokers who most closely followed those recommendations had a significantly lower risk of premature death from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all causes when compared to people who followed the guidelines least closely.

So giving advice about how to reduce their risk of developing another type of cancer and providing information to pass on to their own family members was pretty easy, because that data has been around for many years.… Continue reading →

Chemo Brain: It is Real

By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN


Recently a colleague at work who had just returned from a getting a haircut mentioned to me that his hairdresser, who has lung cancer, was upset because her husband was very worried about her. The hairdresser explained that she had started having some memory problems – couldn’t remember what she did yesterday or couldn’t remember people’s names.  And she had started to tell her husband something and stopped in the middle of her story – not remembering what to say next.  She too acknowledged being a little concerned and was seeing her doctor in 3 days, but she didn’t know how to help her husband until then.  I asked if she was receiving chemotherapy and was told yes, so I explained that she might have “chemo brain.”  

We’ve known for some time that radiation therapy to the brain can cause problems with thinking and memory. Now, we are learning that chemotherapy is linked to some of the same kinds of problems. Research has shown that some chemotherapy agents can cause certain kinds of changes in the brain. Though the brain usually recovers over time, the sometimes vague yet distressing mental changes cancer patients notice are real, not imagined.… Continue reading →

The key to good care for cancer survivors

By Lewis Foxhall, MD


Every cancer patient wants to successfully complete active treatment .  Thanks to improved treatments and use of cancer screening programs (which can find cancer early, when it’s most treatable), this goal is being reached more frequently than ever. 


But to get the most out of treatment there is more you can do.  A proactive approach to care for cancer survivors has developed over the last few years. This includes traditional follow up looking for any signs the original cancer has come back.  It also includes active management of any lingering side effects of treatment, testing for new cancers, and addressing psychological and social problems that may develop or persist after treatment.  This approach is intended to give you the greatest benefit from your treatment so you can live longer, and better. [more]


Good communication matters

The key to successful care of cancer survivors is effective communication. Communication between you and your health care team, as well as between you and your family and caregivers is critically important to making sure you’re getting good, complete care. 


A vital part of this communication is a clear understanding about who is responsible for each part of your long-term care.… Continue reading →

Weight Loss during Chemo

By Michele Szafranski, MS, RD, CSO, LDN


“Well, I could stand to lose some weight.” As a cancer dietitian, I have heard this more times than I can count in the past 10 years. But most people are surprised when I explain to them that losing weight during their treatment may not be the best time. While getting to a healthy weight over the long run can be a healthy thing to do,  it can actually be harmful before and during cancer treatment.

For some people with cancer, keeping weight stable can feel like an uphill battle since there are many factors that can contribute to weight loss even before patients are diagnosed. For instance, the cancer itself may produce chemicals called “cytokines” that can give you less of an appetite or cause nausea. Or the location of a tumor may place pressure on the digestive tract, making you fill up on food easily or have a hard time swallowing. After receiving a diagnosis, anxiety about the diagnosis and upcoming treatment can take away appetite. Then once treatment begins, side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, taste changes, and sore throat can change what and how much people are eating. [more]

Weight loss can affect recovery  

But weight loss before and during treatment can reduce the extra energy and nutrients your body stores and impact recovery in many ways.… Continue reading →

To Treat or Not to Treat Prostate Cancer: That Is the Question

By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH


Imagine being told by your doctor, “You have cancer.”  Then imagine that their next words are “… but we probably don’t need to do anything about it.”  Many people would immediately start looking for another doctor. But hold on just a moment.

Last month the National Institutes of Health (NIH) brought together experts from around the world for a summit to examine the state of our scientific knowledge on “active surveillance” as a management strategy for prostate cancer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, active surveillance essentially means monitoring the cancer closely and delaying active treatment (surgery or radiation, for instance) until there are signs it is needed; the delay may be months, years, or forever. This summit pointed out that while there is still much we need to learn about this once-controversial approach, there is a wealth of data supporting the potential value of active surveillance for a large number of the 240,000 men in the United States who are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.  [more]


Not treating cancer?

To most individuals, the idea of having cancer and choosing not to treat it smacks of fatalism, or just giving up.… Continue reading →

Why Everyone Deserves Palliative Care

By Terri Ades, DNP, FNP-BC, AOCN

As an advanced practice oncology nurse, I’ve been asked many interesting questions about cancer at cocktail parties. While I’ve never been asked about palliative care, my sense is that more people should be asking about it.  Opinion surveys indicate that the public does not understand palliative care.  So what?  Well, if the public doesn’t understand it, then when they or a family member need it, they may be missing out on care they should be receiving.   

Palliative care is care given by specialized health professionals to improve the quality of life of individuals and families who face a serious illness. Palliative care addresses the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of a person from the time of a diagnosis to the end of life.  It is the care that occurs to relieve symptoms (like pain, nausea, and fatigue) when someone is undergoing therapy to cure their  cancer, or to address their emotional suffering when they are told their cancer has progressed, or the social suffering they experience with limited income and health insurance, or their spiritual suffering when they have lost hope.   [more]

Not the Same as Hospice

Is it the same as hospice care?… Continue reading →

Crisis, Opportunity, Communication

By Greta Greer, MSW, LCSW

In my last blog, I provided general tips for communicating with someone diagnosed with cancer. In this blog, I talk about the added importance of good, open communication when you are caring for a loved one with cancer.

When it comes to being a cancer caregiver, I’ve found that caregivers often have the same questions and concerns as the person with cancer. Is he [am I] going to die? What if I can’t handle this?  Where’s the money coming from for treatment? Is the cancer his [my] fault? I told her to go [I know I should have gone]…to the doctor… stop smoking… lose weight…get a colonoscopy, mammogram, Pap smear…use sunscreen!  I’m so angry…scared…overwhelmed. Is cancer contagious?  However, both those with cancer and those who care about them may not share these concerns with one another. Why is that? [more]

You may be afraid that expressing your fears, saying the words out loud, can actually make them come true. You might try to shield your loved one from your feelings and concerns. However, failure to deal with them can affect good communication…and relationships.

The closer you are to someone with cancer, the greater the impact will be on you personally.… Continue reading →