I recently attended the Annual Meeting on Supportive Care in Cancer along with close to 1,700 other participants. This multidisciplinary group of health professionals and researchers came to Copenhagen to exchange ideas and present new research in supportive care.
The meeting organizers define supportive care very broadly to cover physical and emotional symptom management for people with cancer throughout the continuum of illness. At this conference, leading researchers presented updates on managing common symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, and emotional distress. They also presented new models for helping patients and caregivers stay connected to the medical team after discharge from the hospital and during the final months of life.
A unique aspect of this meeting is the exchange of perspectives among professionals with different backgrounds and from many different countries. It is good to be reminded of the need to tailor our practices to meet the cultural standards of different communities. It can also be refreshing to know that what works well in one setting can be adopted by others many thousand miles away with similar outcomes.
I heard an inspiring lecture by Julie Silver, MD, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Her message was that both physical and psychological impairments may contribute to a decreased quality of life for people with cancer and survivors. Many of these problems go undetected, and if left untreated, may lead to disability. Dr. Silver reminded us that rehabilitation has the potential to improve pain, restore function and quality of life through specialized interventions, and should be an integral part of a comprehensive cancer treatment plan.
Exercise, physical therapy, and even cognitive training can help people with cancer overcome the side effects of treatment and prevent permanent loss of function. Dr. Silver’s advice may help patients who are struggling with side effects, such as neuropathy, that limit mobility and function. Since I also learned that she practices very close to me in Boston, I plan to visit and learn more about how I can incorporate some of her techniques and screening methods into my own breast cancer practice.
At this meeting, there was a very successful and seamless integration of topics that dealt with physical and emotional symptoms. Those of us who provide clinical care know from first-hand experience that we need to support not only our patients but their informal caregivers, usually relatives or close friends. Researchers discussed different methods for providing more information and assistance, as well as emotional guidance and support to family caregivers through home visits and resourceful use of technological aids.
The energy and enthusiasm of young researchers from all over the world was contagious! Through their efforts we will learn how to better help patients choose a treatment that matches their values and expectations, how to help patients bear the side effects of chemotherapy, and how to deliver good care not only at clinics and hospitals but also in the home.