According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), cancer care encompasses more than the acute illness phase, or the time when cancer-related symptoms rapidly worsen1. Instead, it runs on a continuum consisting of: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, and end-of-life care.
Because cancer care is long-term and ongoing, self-management plays a vital role for patients who are navigating the symptoms and side effects of treatment and their condition. Let’s talk more about self-management and why it’s important in cancer care.
What is self-management?
Living with a chronic health condition can no doubt be challenging, frustrating, and debilitating. Handling the medical aspects of the illness can feel overwhelming. Patients are affected physically, socially, and emotionally. That said, learning how to effectively self-manage their condition better equips patients to manage these difficulties and maintain a good overall quality of life.
Effective self-management requires patients to have adequate knowledge of their disease, utilize resources as necessary, and adjust to living with a chronic illness. It requires self-monitoring, shared decision-making with healthcare professionals, and the ability to solve problems independently. Working collaboratively alongside providers, patients can develop and enhance their self-management skills, such as:
- Coping with disease symptoms and treatment side effects
- Self-monitoring for any changes in their condition
- Reducing emotional stress and anxiety
- Making healthy lifestyle choices
- Following treatment regimens appropriately
- Navigating the healthcare system
- Communicating with their healthcare team3
Why is self-management important for cancer care?
Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer continues to advance and improve, ultimately aiming to enable patients with cancer to live longer, higher quality lives despite their condition. As a result, cancer is often managed as a chronic disease. Patients with cancer are also spending less time in the hospital and more time at home and outpatient settings, making them more responsible for managing their own care between visits.
Self-management guidance and support throughout the treatment journey empowers patients to actively participate in their own care. Patients still need guidance from healthcare professionals along the way, despite that it’s empowering to take some control back into their own hands.
A comprehensive review including multiple articles showed several benefits associated with patient self-management, including2:
- Increased satisfaction and trust
- Higher quality of life
- Reduced anxiety and emotions
- Better understanding of personal responsibilities
- More positive, direct communication with care professionals
- Planning and decision making improvements
- Increased sense of empowerment
Healthcare professionals play an important role in assessing patients’ self-management abilities and supporting them as they navigate the symptoms and side effects of their treatment and/or condition. Depending on where the patient falls on the cancer care continuum, different forms of support may be suggested.
For example, patients who have been newly diagnosed with cancer may benefit from a broad self-management education course. Stanford University offers a six-week educational workshop called Cancer: Thriving and Surviving. Held in various communities, this interactive workshop teaches techniques to manage common cancer-related issues and how to live a fulfilling life.
Patients who are undergoing cancer treatment and dealing with symptoms or side effects may require more individualized self-management support. Interventions such as the PRO-SELF(c): Pain Control Program provide education, nurse support, and skill-building to help patients with cancer manage their pain.
Taking CHARGE is an example of self-management intervention for breast cancer patients, designed to help women develop skills to address their posttreatment concerns and provide education on commonly encountered topics. For cancer patients in the end-of-life phase, interventions focused on maintaining quality of life and managing emotional and psychosocial needs may be most appropriate.
- Self-Management: Enabling and Empowering Patients Living With Cancer as a Chronic Illness, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3058905/
- Processes of Self-Management in Chronic Illness, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3366425/
- Patient Involvement in Health Care Decision Making: A Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964421/