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Sensitive approach: Oncologist Dr Michael Jefford.
WA News / Astrid Volzke Sensitive approach: Oncologist Dr Michael Jefford.

The wellbeing of cancer survivors in Australia is being compromised by fragmented follow-up care by specialists and GPs, according to a leading cancer specialist.

In an article published today in the journal Cancer Forum, Associate Professor Michael Jefford, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Melbourne, said an increasing number of cancer patients were being treated successfully, with more than 60 per cent surviving more than five years.

But he said once treatment had finished, many patients had difficulty coping with the consequences of both having cancer and the treatments. Professor Jefford said the level of follow-up care of cancer survivors was "inconsistent and fragmented", with some survivors experiencing a feeling of "abandonment" by their treatment team.

"Despite the complex issues around treatment completion, survivorship care is suboptimal," he said. "Follow-up care may be fragmented between oncology specialists (surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists) and general practitioners."

Survivors were at an increased risk of secondary or recurrent cancers, as well as heart disease and arthritis. Some patients also reported symptoms including continuing fatigue, pain, urinary problems and hot flushes that could be addressed through medical care.

Professor Jefford said initiatives including care plans, screening tools, education and training, as well as the development of guidelines were crucial to improving care to what was a "vulnerable population".

Cancer Council WA cancer services director Sandy McKiernan said the physical, psychological and social impacts of cancer treatments were well known.

"The reality for many people with their support networks is that when treatment finishes, life goes back to normal and we know that is not the case," Ms McKiernan said. "It can take quite some time for a readjustment period to occur and living with uncertainty can lead to quite high anxiety for cancer patients."

Ms McKiernan said follow-up clinics or information programs outside the public health system aimed at helping cancer survivors could ease the load on health professionals treating the 10,000 new cases of cancer in WA each year.

For more information call the Cancer Council hotline on 131120 or visit cancerwa.asn.au