According to the National Cancer Institute, there are nearly 17 million cancer survivors in the US today. And that number is expected to grow, as the population ages, treatments improve, and tests find the disease earlier.
Cancer survivors face a myriad of health challenges, not to mention the daunting fear the cancer will return. However, once a patient is deemed “in remission,” they are typically released from care – as well as any attending support – and told to come back in three to six months where diagnostic scans or blood tests will determine if the cancer has returned. At the Block Center, we suggest a far more pro-active, empowered approach: a remission maintenance plan that offers cancer survivors a personalized program to regain control of their health, restore vitality and protect against the cancer returning. Once a patient at our Center has completed their treatment, we individualize a comprehensive Remission Maintenance program for them that includes therapeutic nutrition, nutritional support supplementation, exercise, biobehavioral care, and anti-tumor therapies.
Understandably, after hearing that you are “in remission,” you may want to retreat psychologically to a “cancer- free” zone and never think about your disease again. But this is why you shouldn’t: Cancer is as much a microscopic and molecular disease as it is a visible one. Thus, a patient in remission may still harbor malignant cells (ones that were resistant to chemotherapy or radiation, and therefore survived the attack phase). Unfortunately, these cells have the ability to show up with a vengeance, even when one least suspects it. Not placing far greater emphasis on containing and addressing these cells from the get-go is a significant omission of mainstream treatment.
We recommend regular monitoring of a patient’s status with lab tests and imaging to detect early signs of disrupted biochemistry or a recurrence of disease, especially in the year or two after remission. Being “diagnostically aggressive” may allow us to be less invasive therapeutically. In the first years after remission, therefore, we recommend:
• Clinical visits with your oncologist, at least every three to four months in the first and second year and every six months for the next several years.
• Scans and blood tests of tumor markers every three months.
• Complete blood count and chemistry test every three months.
• Nutrition status, including weight changes, body composition, and albumin levels, every three months.
• Internal terrain monitoring, every three to six months for the terrain factors that are most problematic.
While monitoring, there is no reason to just wait anxiously for the proverbial “other shoe to drop.” You can immediately take steps to help reduce your risk of recurrence:
• Make sound dietary changes toward adherence to a whole foods diet. Reduction in dietary fat has already been shown to cut recurrences in different cancers. Controlling refined flour, sugar and junk food is a necessary step to avoid the recurrence risk of elevated blood glucose and spiking insulin levels.
• Introduce aerobics, strength and flexibility training into your daily schedule. Yoga, Pilates, chi gong or any number of fitness approaches is an essential step towards preventing a recurrence. Considerable research supports that risk, response, recurrence and outcomes are tied to physical care.
• Mitigate stress through progressive relaxation, meditation, or simply easing the load on an excessive work schedule. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with poorer outcomes in breast cancer patients. So do what it takes to transform less healthy patterns.
• Get rest and adequate sleep. The more active you are in the daytime, the better you’ll sleep at night. Few of us get enough sleep and the adverse consequences to an otherwise health promoting, cancer inhibitory environment can be significant.
For more information about the Block Center’s Remission Maintenance Program or to speak to a Patient Advocate please call 1-877-41-BLOCK (25625) or visit our website: www.blockmd.com