5.4 Support and communication

5.4 Support and communication

See validated screening tools mentioned in Principle 4 ‘Supportive care’. Additionally, the ‘Cancer Survivors Unmet Needs (CaSun)’ is another validated screening tool that may help health professionals to identify the unmet needs of patients during survivorship.

A number of specific challenges and needs may arise for cancer survivors:

  • management of physical symptoms including pain and fatigue
  • bowel obstruction due to malignancy (patients should be aware of possible symptoms and advised to seek immediate medical assessment if symptomatic)
  • bowel dysfunction, gastrointestinal or abdominal symptoms, which may need monitoring and assessment
  • malnutrition risk as identified by a validated malnutrition screening tool or unintentional weight loss of greater than 5 per cent usual body weight
  • loss of fertility, surgically or chemically induced menopause, and sexual dysfunction, such as vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, atrophic vaginitis and pain – theses require sensitive discussion and possible referral to a clinician with skills in the relevant area (Harris 2019); sexual dysfunction can be a long-term complication for many women, persisting throughout survivorship (Candy et al. 2016)
  • early-onset menopause – the risk continues after chemotherapy and not only immediately following treatment, with ongoing assessment of the effects of surgical menopause required after surgery (symptoms associated with surgery/chemotherapy-induced menopause include night sweats, hot flushes, reduced libido, reduced bone density and more severe vasomotor symptoms compared with women who go through natural menopause)
  • abdominal ascites, which may need active management
  • chemotherapy-related toxicity (e.g. neuropathy and alopecia)
  • lower limb lymphoedema if a lymphadenectomy has been performed, which can restrict mobility – referral to a physiotherapist or trained lymphoedema massage specialist may be appropriate
  • financial and employment issues (such as loss of income and assistance with returning to work, and the cost of treatment, travel and accommodation)
  • appointing a substitute decision-maker and completing an advance care directive
  • legal issues such as completing a will.

For more information on supportive care and needs that may arise for different population groups, see Appendices A and B, and special population groups.

Rehabilitation may be required at any point of the care pathway from the pre-treatment phase through to disease-free survival and palliative care (Cormie et al. 2017).

Issues that may need to be dealt with include managing cancer-related fatigue, coping with cognitive changes, improving physical endurance, achieving independence in daily tasks, returning to study or work and ongoing adjustment to cancer and its sequels.

Exercise is a safe and effective intervention that improves the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of cancer patients. Exercise should be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care and be viewed as an adjunct therapy that helps counteract the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment.

Cancer survivors may find referral to specific cancer rehabilitation, optimisation programs or community-based rehabilitation appropriate and beneficial. Other options include referral to allied health supports through team care arrangements and mental health plans. Some community support organisations (cancer-related non-government, not-for-profit and charities) provide services to cancer survivors.

The lead clinician (themselves or by delegation) should take responsibility for these tasks:

  • explaining the model of post-treatment care and the roles of health professionals involved in post-treatment care including the role of general practice
  • explaining the treatment summary and follow-up care plan
  • discussing the development of a shared follow-up and survivorship care plan where a model of shared follow-up care has been agreed
  • discussing how to manage any of the physical, psychological or emotional issues identified
  • providing information on the signs and symptoms of recurrent disease
  • providing a survivorship care plan with information on secondary prevention and healthy living
  • providing contact details of the care team involved
  • providing clear information about the role and benefits of palliative care and advance care planning

The lead clinician should ensure regular, timely, two-way communication with the general practitioner about:

  • the patient’s progress
  • the follow-up care plan
  • potential late effects
  • supportive and palliative care requirements
  • any shared care arrangements
  • clarification of various roles in patient care
  • a process for rapid re-entry to medical services for patients with suspected recurrence or if there are other concerns.
More information

Refer to Principle 6 ‘Communication’ for communication skills training programs and resources.