More than 11 million people in the United States have a history of cancer, and more than 1.4 million new cases of the disease are diagnosed every year. Due to progress in the prevention and treatment of cancer, approximately 68% of patients now survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis; nonetheless, 18% will die, often after months of painful, progressive illness.
The symptoms experienced by patients with cancer and even cancer survivors are well known to cause significant distress, affect the ability to function, and impair rehabilitation. Whereas many of these symptoms are the result of disease, it is increasingly recognized that pain, neuropathy, fatigue, sleep disturbance, cognitive dysfunction, and affective symptoms can also be caused by the treatments for the cancer. Treatment-related symptoms may persist for weeks, months, or years and may worsen, even when the cancer improves; they can limit vocational activity and inhibit social recovery.
In many cases, cancer can be managed much like other serious chronic diseases – thus extending for many years the need for continued treatment accompanied by the frequent monitoring and managing of treatment-related symptoms. And, as patients survive cancer for increasingly longer periods, persistent residual treatment-related symptoms are becoming more prevalent and pose an increasing barrier to the resumption of predisease functioning. Treatment-related symptoms can directly affect survival if they become so severe that patients abandon potentially curative therapies. Having the ability to control or even prevent such symptoms would be of potential benefit to thousands of cancer patients and survivors.