Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the cancer advocate is to support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer patient advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Cancer?
Cancer refers to a group of more than 100 disorders that are characterized by abnormal proliferation of cells. Naturally, a cell has a programed life whereby after a certain period of time, it dies as new cells take over its functions. In cancer, this process is disrupted by a defect that occurs in the DNA. It results in cells that may remain alive long after they were supposed to have died naturally (apoptosis). This results in tumors and other malignant manifestations.
Symptoms of cancer
Cancer symptoms are specific to the part of the body that is affected and the type of the cancer. Some cancers are not so aggressive while others are so aggressive that they quickly affect the surrounding tissues and metastasize to distant organs. Going by systems and body parts the following are the general and common symptoms:
· Cancer in the brain can present with persistent headache, visual disturbances, seizures and other symptoms of impaired neurological functions
· Cancer of the lungs will present with symptoms of deteriorating breathing functions.
· Liver and digestive system cancers will show digestive problems, swollen abdomen with or without fluid (ascites) as well as signs of a failing liver like jaundice and generalized itchiness.
· Cancers of the reproductive system (women) will show symptoms of disrupted hormonal functions, bleeding and swellings in the abdomen and or breast.
· For men’s reproductive system cancers symptoms may include urinary problems and prostate.
· Skin may present with changing skin texture color with or without chronic sores and or swellings.
· Other general symptoms include unexplained loss of weight, anorexia, fever, chronic fatigue among others that will make a clinician suspect cancer when all the symptoms are considered together.
Causes of Cancer
The causes are not known. The process of cancer development however, involves abnormal and harmful changes in the DNA which results in development in abnormal cells that don’t follow the natural process of cell formation to the end of its biological usefulness and death.
These include factors that are thought to affect DNA’s normal functions. They include:
· Exposure to environmental toxins – industrial or even agricultural
· Exposure to radiations – either during other cancer treatment or accidentally.
· Genetic predisposition
· Exposure to excessive sunlight or UV light
· Unhealthy diet
· A sedentary lifestyle.
Specific tests are done according to the cancer in question. Common cancer diagnostic tests include:
· CT and CAT scans
· MRI tests
· Biopsy taking and histological examination.
· Blood tests
Treatments of cancer
Here, again specific treatment depends on the cancer being dealt with. Even in the same cancer, treatment will depend on the stage of the disease, age of the patient and the general condition of the patient. Broadly speaking the following are the common therapies used in cancer management.
· Targeted therapies
· Biological therapies
· Supportive management may include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers.
U.S. Cancer Statistics
The estimated figures for the year 2015 are:
· 1 658 370 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed.
· 584 430 people will die of one of the many types of cancers.
Cancer incidence is on the rise the world over but huge amounts of funds are being used in research and search for new and better treatments. Due to this, many victims of certain types of cancers are living much longer than before.