Survivorship Care Plan
Due to early detection and improvements treatment options, prostate cancer can be curable, and many men will experience favorable outcomes. In fact, there are roughly 3 million prostate cancer survivors living in the United States alone, and these individuals make up nearly 20% of survivors of all cancers.1 With such a large number of men surviving prostate cancer, it has become increasingly important to establish recommendations for men post-treatment to help guide them into leading the healthiest life possible. After treatment, a cancer care team may create a survivorship care plan that addresses many aspects of a man’s life post-cancer.
What is a survivorship care plan?
A survivorship care plan is created and explained to you by your healthcare team. It contains recommendations and guidelines to follow for a healthy life after prostate cancer. It will also contain detailed information on your cancer, the treatments you received, and elements of your personal medical history that may help predict your risk of cancer recurrence, developing a second cancer, or long-term treatment or cancer related side effects.
This plan can be delivered to you as a physical document. Your doctor should have a template of a survivorship care plan for you to use, however, if they do not, there are many organizations that have free example plans or templates that you can print out yourself. You can also initiate the conversation on creating a survivorship care plan if your doctor doesn’t already suggest it for you. You should keep your survivorship care plan with you throughout life as you visit new doctors, support groups, or specialists.1-3 In addition to your survivorship plan, it is important to communicate all treatments and medications you received to any future doctors.
What information or recommendations does the plan have?
All survivorship care plans will be different from one another, since each individual’s experience with prostate cancer can vary greatly. In general however, a survivorship care plan will contain information on the following:
Follow-up care instructions:
Even after a cancer is deemed to be cured, it can still recur later on. It is also possible to develop a second cancer unrelated to the original cancer battled. Your survivorship care plan will have your follow-up appointment schedule, what screening tests or exams you may need in the future, and how often these should take place. For example, your doctor may recommend that you receive a digital rectal exam (DRE) annually and a PSA test every 6 to 12 months for the first five years after treatment. They may also recommend screening tests for other cancers that you may be at risk for based on your personal history or exposure to radiation. It is important to follow these guidelines in order to have the best chance of catching any future cancers early.
Symptoms to watch for:
A survivorship plan may also include potential late-developing side effects of treatment to be prepared for, as well as specific symptoms to look out for that may be indicative of second cancer or cancer recurrence.
Diet and exercise recommendations:
Eating a well-balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular physical activity are all behaviors that are thought to decrease your risk of second cancer or cancer recurrence. Your doctor will help determine what kinds of exercises your body is capable of handling, and the intensity of these exercises. Additionally, they may recommend specific changes to your diet, such as reducing trans fats or processed foods. They may also direct you to a registered dietician for additional support.
Prostate cancer treatment can bring along with it many quality of life-impacting side effects, including urinary problems, bowel dysfunction, sexual side-effects, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), hot flashes, and more. Your doctor will help you create a plan for managing any side effects you are currently experiencing, as well as help you be prepared for additional issues that may arise down the road.
Mental and emotional support sources:
Battling cancer and worrying about its recurrence can cause a toll on the body. This toll not only affects individuals physically, but also mentally and emotionally as well. Many men report feelings of depression, anxiety, worry, or fear that greatly affects their mental state. Your survivorship plan may include warning signs to watch for that indicate your mental health may be declining. Also, your plan may recommend specific resources you can utilize, including therapists, counselors, spiritual leaders, support groups, and other sources of information.
Your survivorship plan will be tailored to your cancer and your life-long needs. It may feature information on all of the above topics but may have more or less information as well. If there is something you feel is missing from your survivorship care plan or something you’d like more information on, talk to your healthcare team about amending your plan.1-3