At this year's biennial cancer survivorship research conference, "Cancer Survivorship: Embracing the Future," held October 4-6 at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel in Bethesda, Md., more than 400 people gathered to discuss the state of the science for cancer survivorship.
"Survivors often find their ordeal transformed into an experience of growth and self-realization," explained Ellen Stovall, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, during her opening address. "They can try to help others by leaving them hints as to how to survive."
"We came here to discuss the framework of the research enterprise," said Dr. Julia Rowland, director of OCS. "We now have an evidence base gathered by multidisciplinary teams to show the challenges our growing population of survivors face. Things that survivors have been telling us for a while - that they feel chronically tired, or that they have memory troubles - are now appreciated as very real cancer-related phenomena. Survivorship research increasingly is moving beyond pure description of cancer's impact to include efforts to develop and test interventions to prevent or ameliorate its adverse effects."
During a conference presession, senior researchers were paired with cancer survivors who work in advocacy so that they could develop mentoring relationships after the conference, helping survivors to understand - and ultimately help communicate to their constituents - complex issues such as clinical trial designs, study results, and research funding. Following this, plenary sessions included communications and e-health, posttreatment follow-up care, survivorship among underserved populations, and the impact of cancer on family caregivers.
Dr. David Gustafson, director of the Center of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described his group's NCI-funded effort to enhance cancer communications with Internet technology through the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System. NCI's Dr. Neeraj Arora cited data from several recent studies that are being used by his group in the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) to design electronic information formats for specific audiences, addressing their related health-information disparities.
A dozen breakout sessions allowed conference attendees to meet in smaller groups. During poster sessions, researchers presented preliminary data from their ongoing or as-yet-unpublished studies. Poster topics included the prevention of lymphedema after breast cancer with tailored exercise; the prevalence of joint symptoms in postmenopausal women who take aromatase inhibitors for early-stage breast cancer; the meaning of cancer survivorship for Hispanic adolescents; fertility and pregnancy after cancer; and adherence to preventive swallowing and dental regimens after head and neck cancer, among others.
While most people attended the conference for professional reasons, many also came as representatives of the phenomenon that originally inspired this event - the fact that they have lived through cancer. Among them was Carl Rogers, a 63-year-old writer and communications consultant who does advocacy work on behalf of The Wellness Community in Los Angeles. He has survived three primary cancers - kidney, colon, and prostate. "The struggle is quite a gift, actually," he said. "You are given an opportunity to fight for wellness, and the payoff is often more than a medical recovery. I've never been so alive. The skill of carefully selected physicians, married to the will of an informed patient, can produce some pretty amazing stuff."