Women with a history of breast cancer are living longer--and better. In the United States alone, there are more than 3 million breast cancer survivors.
When Weill Cornell Medicine (WCM) and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital looked at the trend--and its own care resources—they asked what the medical community is doing to support those longtime survivors. The answer? Establishing the Iris Cantor Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, which offers medical care, education, and support to survivors.
Patients are referred there by their primary breast cancer physicians to transition from “active” care relating to surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy to the survivorship program. Most women are referred about five years after diagnosis. The program takes over the patient’s medical care related to breast cancer, including annual referrals for appropriate imaging, such as mammograms.
“There are some women in the program who had breast cancer 35 and even 40 years ago,” says Anne Moore, MD, Medical Director of the Breast Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Though the numbers are a success story for both doctors and patients, more important, Dr. Moore says, is that women no longer in “active” treatment for the disease obtain much-needed follow-up care. Newly diagnosed patients who know about the program feel encouraged, and know they have another level of care available when they’re ready for it.
Dr. Moore, a medical oncologist who made the transition from active practice to leading the Iris Cantor Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, envisioned a dedicated space for the program to focus on the needs of those women and men who no longer are receiving active treatment from their surgeons or medical oncologists.
“This type of program is a very new concept,” Dr. Moore explains. “There’s no absolute model to draw on, but we all realized that we needed to have this. These patients don’t need the same type of acute care, and they wanted a home.”
In addition to the medical follow up, the program offers educational programs, such as the annual Survivorship Symposium (postponed this year due to the pandemic) and online webinars. All patients can stay current with the center’s offerings through its email newsletter and by following the Weill Cornell Medicine Breast Center YouTube channel.
The survivorship program is closely tied to resources at the Breast Center and The Integrative Health and Wellbeing Program. The program on Contemplative Self-Healing is a joint program with the Survivorship Center and the Nalanda Institute in New York City. These partnerships allow patients to have access to resources including nutritionists, yoga, and meditation.
Research is a primary goal, Dr. Moore adds. One study, she explains, highlights that meditation can ease stress, memory and attention problems, cognitive difficulties, and post-traumatic stress disorder for breast cancer survivors. Another study of vitamins and supplements used by breast cancer survivors has been accepted for poster presentation at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium this December.
Patients who’ve made the center their medical “home” for survivorship care have found solace in its resources. They report feeling uplifted by the perspective they gain on life after breast cancer, focus less on mortality, and have uncovered the power of patients and doctors to support and heal each other.
To find out more about the Iris Cantor Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, or to obtain a referral, please contact your primary breast cancer physician.