Cancer survivorship research continues

(Editor’s note: The following column is by Dr. Julia H. Rowland. She is the director of the National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Survivorship.)

As more than 500 researchers, patient advocates, cancer care specialists, public health officials, and others gathered outside Washington, D.C., on June 14–16 for the Sixth Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference Exit Disclaimer, the American Cancer Society announced that an estimated 13.7 million people in the United States are living after a cancer diagnosis, and the estimated number of cancer survivors is expected to increase to almost 18 million by 2022.

These numbers, based on data from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, underscore the need for the biennial conference. The event, which began in 2002, brings together those involved in cancer survivorship research and the delivery of survivors’ post-treatment care to discuss findings and to work together to advance the field.

The meeting is jointly sponsored by NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, the American Cancer Society’s Behavioral Research Center, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As one speaker at the conference said, “With over 13 million survivors in the U.S., we need to get this right.”

The conference theme, “Cancer Survivorship Research: Translating Science to Care,” reflected the growing consensus about the importance of translating scientific discoveries into clinical and behavioral interventions and replicating the work across diverse populations.

We were fortunate to have Dr. Russell Glasgow, NCI’s deputy director of Implementation Science, provide the “bookend” talks for this event. He launched the dialogue by walking the audience through the translational science process from basic scientific discovery to public health impact, and he challenged us to consider how we were going to move survivorship research along this pathway. Building on this theme, each plenary, special session, and symposium placed new findings along the “lab bench to park bench continuum” to stimulate thinking about how best to translate research into real-life practice.

The first plenary session focused on obesity, a national public health issue of particular concern to cancer survivors and their caregivers, given the increased likelihood of weight gain in some populations following a cancer diagnosis, as well as the increased health risks associated with obesity. Speakers presented new animal studies that are informing behavior change interventions for survivors who need them most, population studies demonstrating that obesity might not have the same effects on all survivors, and weight-control programs that have successfully reduced obesity in at-risk populations.

Glasgow closed the conference, summarizing the greatest tasks that stand before the cancer survivorship research community as we continue to design and conduct research, with an eye toward translating that research into high-quality, cost-effective care across populations. He pointed to the need for a balance between fidelity to evidence-based programs and adaptation to a local setting or population. He encouraged those of us in the cancer survivorship field to be good journalists and to ask: “Who, what, when, where, why, and how?”