The Changing Trends in Cancer Care
The word cancer brings some very scary thoughts and feelings to those who have been diagnosed with it. Often, it isn’t just the fear of the disease itself, but also the treatments that one has to go through to get the disease to go into remission. Operations were, at one time, very invasive, and took a long period of time to recover from. Then the patient faced weeks of energy draining chemo or radiation therapies.
In short, we had to surgically invade their body and then use drugs and radiation that nearly killed the patient, to kill the cancer.
When people think of cancer, this is often how they imagine it.
In my nearly 30 years of practice as a Radiation Oncologist, though, I’ve seen a drastic change in how we treat patients with this disease. Today there are many more choices for a patient, and treatments are typically less invasive.
Let’s look at two types of cancer that I treat, prostate and breast. They are very similar cancers in that they both appear in a sexual organ, and they both can be detected early with proven methods.
When I first became board certified in 1985, it was generally accepted that removal of the prostate or breast was an acceptable form of treatment. While there was recognition that these procedures could greatly impact the quality of a person’s life post-surgery, they got lost in the primary goal of saving the patient’s life. Lifestyle concerns were not the primary emphasis.
Today things have changed. Treating the cancer, while preserving these organs, has become the focus. It is hoped that by doing this, the patient’s lifestyle can be preserved.
This change in emphasis was brought about by two factors: technology and attitudes. As medical science progresses, a wider array of procedures become available. Today, there is a dizzying array of non-invasive options for patients that did not exist 30 years ago.
Driving the need for those procedures were the attitudes of patients. Many view cancer today as a speed bump in their lives: something that needs to be dealt with, overcome, and left behind. Today’s patients are demanding convenience in their treatments. They want fewer downsides, less cost and want to invest less time.
In 2013, patients can now decide on the best treatment option for themselves based on the cost and their lifestyle. This has given rise to a new concept in health care: Personalized Medicine. That’s something that couldn’t be imagined 30 years ago.
In some cases, invasive procedures, chemo and radiation treatments will still be necessary. But when it is possible, cancer is now being treated with the idea of preserving the whole person, and their lifestyle. By reducing the impact that cancer has on a patient’s life, we’re now able to get them back to their day-to-day activities much sooner.
Less invasive. More options. Returning the patient to their daily lives. These are the changes that I’ve seen in cancer care in the last 30 years.