Taking Care of Survivors Survivorship Clinic at Children's Hospital Provides Help to Those Who Beat Childhood Cancer

By Daly, Jill | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

Taking Care of Survivors Survivorship Clinic at Children's Hospital Provides Help to Those Who Beat Childhood Cancer


Daly, Jill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Young people who have survived cancer as children often face special challenges as they mature into adults.

Their needs are a special interest of Jean M. Tersak, director of the cancer survivorship program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. There she leads pediatric hematology/oncology research to bring about cancer cures. At the same time, she sees the need for helping survivors wade through the demands of transitioning from having a pediatrician who is familiar with their cancer treatment to having a family doctor who may not understand their risk of health problems, caused by their cancer as well as their cancer treatment.

"Now there's a focus on survivorship," Dr. Tersak said. "We prepare children to transition to adult care, when they're not in the doctor's office with their parents. We tell them what they need to know and how to advocate for themselves. Each patient gets their own plan for care, a road map."

It's no simple thing: All medical professionals are not aware of survivors' needs for special care in monitoring their health, according to Tara Henderson, director of the Childhood Cancer Survivors Center at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Henderson was a co-author of a January 2014 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine that found "few internists are comfortable caring for adult childhood cancer survivors," and they were limited in their knowledge of guidelines on taking care of survivors.

Survivorship care plans should be provided to all cancer survivors, according to a 2006 recommendation from the Institute of Medicine. For example, women who had chest radiation as children should have breast MRI and mammography as frequently as if they had the gene mutation or a family history of breast cancer that put them at high risk of cancer. A recent Annals of Internal Medicine article reported that cardiovascular disease shows up earlier in "substantial numbers" of adult survivors of childhood cancer who were exposed to chemotherapy drugs known to cause heart damage. It called for research into the screening needs of these patients.

Programs at Children's aim to help the survivors and educate their family doctors.

Dr. Tersak said they are given information about healthy habits - avoiding tobacco, eating a good diet and exercising. "Things that are healthy for all of us are extra important for them."

She said each survivor should have a primary care provider, and if they don't, they get help finding one.

The survivorship clinic team keeps in contact with them. The nurse practitioner develops a treatment summary, meets with them, and tries to give them motivation to stay healthy.

Children's survivorship clinic team, in addition to Dr. Tersak, includes Aimee Costello, clinic coordinator; Jessica Mink, social worker; and Noelle Conover, coordinator of the SurvivorConnect program, which reaches out to cancer survivors between annual visits.

"We now have 530 survivors to keep track of," said Ms. Conover, who oversees the SurvivorConnect website, www.chp.edu/ survivorship; a newsletter and social and education activities - all offering resource materials and follow-up information for young adult survivors of pediatric cancer. …

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