As more people are surviving cancer, support networks and research are becoming increasingly insufficient, particularly in relation to non-medical issues like access to jobs and loans.
That theme was highlighted in a special issue of the Journal of Cancer Policy, which was published immediately following the opening of the 3rd European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Cancer Survivorship Summit, on March 1.
The special issue explored the needs for more long-term research, better cross-analyses of different cancer types, and improved support for cancer survivors. It called for the need to shift from thinking about medical issues alone to focusing more on the important societal challenges that also are part of a comprehensive definition of health and well-being.
Many researchers who wrote articles for the issue also were speakers at the summit and outlined their visions for caring for cancer survivors.
“Surviving cancer is more than a medical issue. We hope the research in this issue will increase the awareness of the socio-economic challenges faced by survivors for both researchers and society, which would help to engage various stakeholders to join forces in research, deliver the best care for survivors and change practice,” Lifang Liu, MD, one of the guest editors of the special issue, said in a press release.
Estimates point to one in three men and one in four women developing some form of cancer before the age of 75. Better prevention, screening and treatment means an increasing number of these people survive, making up a significant portion of the global population in the future.
The socio-economic issues cancer survivors face, however, are still understood very poorly by researchers, including getting loans, accessing jobs, paying mortgages, insurance or returning to healthy sex lives.
The point these researchers make is that overcoming cancer is only the first step, but society doesn’t offer much support for overcoming the following steps.
“Current research efforts are fragmented,” said Françoise Meunier, MD, one of the guest editors of the special issue. “There is an urgent need to change our mentality towards cancer survivorship and to form a comprehensive view on long term follow-up involving medical, physical, and psychological perspectives but also societal and financial ones. To move from optimized research to better care, implementation is key: we need to involve many different stakeholders early — not only researchers, but also lawyers, insurers and policy makers.”
A paper published in the special issue, titled “What do we mean by the right to be forgotten?”, highlights this point and provides a potential solution to protect survivors from discrimination when applying for insurance. The solution presented in this French case study allowed every cancer survivor not to declare their cancer 10 years after the end of the active treatment and five years if they had cancer under age 18.
The researchers showed that insurance issues can be partly overcome with a combination of conventional approaches and legislation. The French case study could be a starting point for an international or pan-European solution to this problem.