How to Beat Cancer—Twice

What doctors and their patients should be talking about when it comes to cancer awareness.

By Susan Ince from Reader's Digest Magazine | March 2013

How to Beat Cancer—TwicePhotograph by Jamie Chung
“Try not to focus only on the cancer you’ve already had. You’re going to need to get tested for other cancers too.”

First-cancer survivors may not realize they are at higher risk for some seemingly unrelated cancers. For example, in October, the Mayo Clinic reported that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivors have around a 2.5 times greater risk of melanoma than other people. The earlier cancer in the bone marrow crowds out the forming immune system cells, creating the higher second-cancer risk, explains Jerry Brewer, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

With age, the risk of developing many cancers rises, whether or not you’ve been diagnosed before. Unfortunately, many cancer survivors are not as vigilant as they should be about screenings. Surprisingly, their oncologists may not be urging the right tests either. “Health-care professionals can get so focused on the one cancer that they forget about all the others,” says Christine Hill-Kayser, MD, radiation oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The University of Florida reported in July that 20 to 30 percent of well-insured survivors don’t get even the standard tests recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

What you can do: Develop a survivorship plan with your physicians; the plan should outline your risks, recommend preventive measures, and include a schedule for medical screenings so that if you do develop another cancer, it can be treated early. For anyone who finished treatment without a written plan, a do-it-yourself version is available at livestrongcareplan.org, created by Dr. Hill-Kayser and colleagues for the University of Pennsylvania’s oncolink.org. The site will prompt you for information (type of cancer, treatment details) and then provide recommendations from professional organizations for second-cancer monitoring.

“Second cancers may be on the upswing, but the news isn’t all bad.”

More than 12 million Americans are cancer survivors—four times the number from the early 1970s. “It’s really important to understand the tremendous advances that have been made. Second cancers are a substantial clinical and public health problem now because people are living so much longer after first cancers. It’s an adverse consequence of a real success story,” says Lindsay Morton, PhD, investigator in the division of cancer epidemiology and statistics at the National Cancer Institute.

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