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Getting Familiar with Chronic Cancer: Re-Thinking How We Treat a Long-Term Diagnosis

August 30, 2019

To help shift the way we think about managing cancer as a chronic condition, Susan Escudier, M.D., FACP, medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Houston Medical Center and Houston Fannin spoke with us to share her insights on the changes in how chronic cancer is treated. 

Advancements in oncology have led to a shift in how several types of cancers are treated, giving some patients hope to live longer. What are some of the innovations that have contributed to that change?

Targeted therapies are certainly a large factor in improved cancer care, as they are specific to a certain tumor characteristic such as a gene mutation or protein that drives cancer growth within the patient. Immunotherapies have also contributed to this shift, as they activate your body to recognize and fight the cancer. These newer treatments can improve long-term disease control and survival with fewer side effects. As new drugs are approved, we can offer alternatives if a therapy is not working or is poorly tolerated. In fact, Texas Oncology has helped develop more than 90 FDA-approved cancer-fighting drugs, about one-third of cancer therapies approved to date.

What cancers are seen as “chronic” conditions?

Chronic leukemias, low grade lymphomas, and myeloma are all commonly referred to as chronic conditions. Some metastatic solid tumors such as lung, colon, renal, melanoma, prostate, and breast can also be controlled for years with current treatments, so the list is growing. 

Important life events like travel and celebrations can still be enjoyed with strategic planning around treatment timing, but always make sure to have realistic plans for what you can and can’t do, and a plan for what to do if you get sick.”

How can patients adjust their lifestyles to better manage a chronic cancer after a diagnosis?

It’s important for chronic cancer patients to realize it is a long-term process, and they will be on and off treatment for the rest of their life, but by enhancing and maintaining good health with diet, exercise, and taking care of any other health issues, they will be better equipped to fight cancer. While it’s important to be as active as possible, it is imperative to listen to your body and rest when needed. 

Are there any cancers that will be seen as chronic diseases in the near future, thanks to advanced treatments? 

It’s promising to see a lot of progress for multiple myeloma. I can certainly see that joining the list.

What is one of the biggest concerns or questions your patients raise about their chronic cancer diagnosis, and what is your response?

The biggest concern my patients vocalize to me is about maintaining the balance between fighting the cancer and living life. Side effects are common and often get more troublesome as multiple years and treatments go by, so I always tell patients to have honest discussions with their family and healthcare team about what to expect and how to handle it.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.