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Study finds rural cancer patients are missing out on key information

Arlen Rowe.
University of Southern Queensland research fellow Dr Arlen Rowe says more needs to be done to improve survivorship care for rural cancer survivors.

Most rural Australians affected by cancer are missing out on vital care and information about maintaining their health following treatment.

Research led by the University of Southern Queensland and in partnership with Cancer Council Queensland found almost two-thirds (65.2 per cent) of the 201 participants surveyed had not received a survivorship care plan after returning to their rural homes following cancer treatment in a major city.

Survivorship care plans include a record of a person’s cancer history and recommendations for follow-up care and long-term wellbeing. They were designed to help cancer patients transition from active treatment to survivorship care and the next chapter of their lives.

Lead researcher Dr Arlen Rowe from the University of Southern Queensland said the findings, published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, highlighted that more needed to be done to address the barriers to quality survivorship care for rural cancer survivors.

“Cancer survivors living in rural areas can sometimes feel a disconnect from their treatment team once their treatment is completed and they return home,” Dr Rowe said.

“However, just because the treatments are over doesn’t mean dealing with the cancer is done. A diagnosis can turn their whole world upside down and impact the rest of their lives.

“Some are left with long-term health issues, struggle to cope with the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis even after treatments, experience cancer recurrence, or develop a new cancer.

“Navigating the maze of check-up appointments, tests and scans, as well as making the necessary health and lifestyle changes to optimise their recovery and maintain long-term wellbeing can be overwhelming and stressful.

“That’s why survivorship care plans are essential for cancer survivors, especially those who live in rural areas where access to health and support services is limited.

“Without the necessary information or advice, it can be incredibly difficult to effectively manage their health, wellbeing and long-term recovery.”

The study also looked at the different types of survivorship care information and advice rural cancer patients received.

Just over half of the respondents said they did not get information about diet (58 per cent), counselling services (57 per cent) and physical exercise (55 per cent).

A little over a quarter of the participants reported to have received information about resources available in their community (30 per cent), future cancer screening (29 per cent), health behaviours to aid/manage recovery (28 per cent), accessing financial support (26 per cent) and symptoms and signs of recurrence (25 per cent).

Dr Rowe said attention to survivorship was vital to improve cancer survivors’ quality of life and survival rates.

“People living in rural Australia are up to 31 per cent more likely to die within five years of being diagnosed with cancer than those who live in metropolitan areas,” she said.

“Improving the distribution of survivorship care plans and ensuring cancer survivors in rural areas are provided with adequate survivorship care information could help turn around this pretty sad statistic and deliver better outcomes for rural Australians beyond cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr Arlen Rowe was supported in conducting this research by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a Queensland Government Advance Queensland PhD Scholarship.

The University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Health Research is committed to research that aims to improve the health and welfare of our community by tackling health behaviours, influences, and outcomes associated with the key communicable and non-communicable diseases of our time.