An estimated 15.5 million Americans are cancer survivors, but they haven’t beaten the disease alone.

It takes a concerted effort to survive cancer, and the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program is providing patients with the resources they need to help them continue living a full life.

“Survivorship begins at the time of cancer diagnosis,” said Dr. Susan Hong, director of the Cancer Center’s Adult Cancer Survivorship Program. “Just because the cancer has been cured doesn’t mean people are left in perfect health. There’s a lot of fallout, not just with patients but for family members, friends, and others.”

Mile Square Health Center
Mile Square Health Center

The survivorship clinic is housed within Mile Square Health Center, 1220 S. Wood St., a federally qualified health center. Any adult diagnosed with cancer with their primary care physician at Mile Square or who are treated at University of Illinois Health Science System are eligible to receive care in the survivorship program. The aim of the survivorship clinic is to coordinate care between the cancer specialist and primary care physician to ensure that all aspects of a cancer survivor’s health needs are met.

The survivorship program contains numerous components:

  • Screening for recurrent and new cancers
  • Assessing for the medical and psychosocial late effects, as well as the intervention, for the consequences of cancer and its treatment
  • Coordination of care between specialists and primary care providers to ensure all aspects of the survivor’s health needs are met

Navigating life can be difficult for cancer survivors, as they face numerous challenges. Depression; stress; pain; limitations in activity; and poor general health are just some of the hurdles. Survivorship care is needed because traditional medical care for cancer survivors has been fragmented and poorly coordinated with both survivors and health care providers confused about who is delivering which aspects of care, Hong said.

Several other initiatives led by the UI Cancer Center Adult Survivorship Team are designed to prevent cancer occurrence. The Family History Initiative at the Evelyn Goldberg Mammography Center is one such pilot program.

Hand touching tablet

Women undergoing screening mammograms are asked to complete information about their family history on a HIPAA-secure tablet-based web program called CancerIQ. This tool uses existing family history screening tools evaluated by the United States Preventative Services Task Force to determine if a woman qualifies to speak to a genetic counselor. “Identifying high risk individuals is one way we can tailor screening and prevention services appropriately,” Hong said.

Telemedicine conferenceEducation is another key component to the survivorship program, which is developing a program entitled Project ECHO, started in New Mexico in 2003 to address Hepatitis C and now covers more than 45 health conditions throughout the world. Since the number of specialists are limited in rural and underserved communities, ECHO trains primary care clinicians to provide specialty care services, allowing more people to get the care they need. By doing, so patient outcomes are improved and costs are reduced, Hong said.

“The Adult Survivorship Program is more than a clinical program,” Hong said. “We are passionate about the research and education missions of the university. Through research, we are trying to gain a better understanding of the health issues faced by cancer survivors. Our hope is to intervene early to prevent or minimize the long-term health impacts of cancer and cancer treatments.”

Along with Hong, the survivorship team consists of Kristin McCune, RN, clinic nurse at Mile Square; Tamara Hamlish, PhD, research scientist; Jackie Kanoon, program manager; and Anika Jenkins, business manager.