MORE people in South Yorkshire are surviving cancer than ever before.
Just 15 years ago the dreaded disease would kill nearly half its victims within a year of diagnosis.
Since then, thanks to technological advances, better understanding and quicker treatment, the one-year cancer survival rate in Sheffield has jumped to 68.3 per cent.
But as the number of survivors increase, doctors are facing fresh challenges, as they discover a range of long-term side-effects in people years after they have been declared clear of their cancer.
The problems, unheard of just a few decades ago, are the focus of a specialist Late Effects Group based at Weston Park Hospital.
For the last decade the small group of specialists – the first of its kind in the world – has been treating patients for a range of side-effects, usually caused by the chemotherapy or radiotherapy that saved their lives.
Patients complain of fatigue, fertility problems, prolonged hair loss, early menopause, teeth problems and in extreme cases, damage to vital organs such as the heart.
Consultant nurse Dr Diana Greenfield, the first member of staff appointed when the group was set up back in 2001, said: “With modern cancer management, many more cancer patients are surviving cancer.
“Whilst this is good news, we are increasingly becoming more aware of the long-term and late effects of cancer and its treatment. In our late-effects clinic we see patients who develop chronic health problems as a direct result of the treatment they received for cancer.
“Most problems are manageable if found early enough. That’s why assessing and screening patients in a timely and systematic way is becoming more important.”
The group – funded by Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity – has ballooned in size since a small group of clinicians secured the money to appoint Dr Greenfield.
Since then the charity has awarded the group £1 million in research grants.
“We are beginning to consider how we best care for patients with treatment consequences,” Dr Greenfield said.
“Simple measures, such as individual care plans and helping patients to make the right health choices for themselves, will help. We screen patients at risk of side effects and offer advice and support to manage their health in the long term.”
Rachel Thorpe, director of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, said: “We are very proud as a charity to have played such an important role in supporting this research group, which is now internationally renowned and is making such a difference to the lives of survivors.”