When it comes to chemotherapy, the oncologist treating the patient is typically the expert. But what happens when cancer treatments — like chemotherapy and radiation — complete their course? Many times, primary care physicians become the providers who continue care for cancer survivors. However, many primary care physicians are unaware of long-term side effects of cancer treatments that survivors under their care may have been treated with by their oncologists, according to a new survey.
With unprecedented advances in the medical field there are now over 12 million cancer survivors today — many of whom are predominately being treated by primary care physicians.
A new study, which will be presented at the American Society of Clinic Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago this June, found that oncologists are able to identify most of the later effects of cancer treatments while most primary care physicians cannot.
The findings are based on a 2009 survey of over 1,100 primary care doctors and 1,100 oncologists across the United States. In the survey, doctors were asked to identify both short-term and long-term side effects of four common chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer and colon cancer.
According to the survey, 15 percent to 17 percent of primary care doctors knew that early menopause and second cancers could develop from Cytoxan, a chemotherapy drug used to treat breast and colon cancer, while 62 percent to 97 percent of oncologists surveyed were aware of these late effects. Similar results were obtained when primary care physicians were compared to oncologists with regards to three other cancer medications and their long-term effects.
The study demonstrates that primary care physicians, oncologists and patients need to communicate with each other better. Primary care physicians and oncologists are trained differently in their respective specialties; however, when a patient is discharged from an oncologist’s service, the oncologist should communicate with the primary care physician about future needs of the cancer patient. Additionally the oncologist should stress to the patient what information needs to be conveyed to the primary care doctor at future visits.
ASCO spokesman Dr. Nicholas Vogeizang stated that the results of the survey suggest that electronic medical records could prove helpful in improving cancer survivors’ care; the primary care doctor would have easier and quicker access to the oncologists’ treatment notes.
Ultimately, patients should feel empowered to take control of their health care. The more patients can take control of the care being provided to them, the greater the likelihood of positive outcomes.
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