A new study has revealed that treatment for non-cancer health issues, even after the diagnosis of the disease, may improve survival rates of cancer patients.
The study cited that if cancer patients receive specialist treatment for often ignored non-cancer health issues, it might result in a prolonged survival rate.
The study, led by Caroline Carney Doebbeling, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor of medicine and of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, and Laura Jones, Ph.D., at the Roudebush VA Medical Center's Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, is the first to examine the effect of primary care on health outcomes in cancer patients.
According to the researchers, the comprehensiveness of primary health care received by the primary care physician (a general internist or family practice doctor) during cancer treatment from an oncologist, might improve the cancer survival rates.
Lung cancer was the primary focus of the researchers due to the low one-year lung cancer survival rate in these patients.
"We cannot afford to ignore the chronic medical conditions that most cancer patients have because treating these conditions may bring increased longevity as well as improved quality of life," said Dr. Doebbeling.
She added: "Lung cancer patients are often faced with many additional health issues, such as high blood pressure, emphysema and other respiratory conditions, all of which can and should be treated."
Dr. Jones said: "When doctors think their patients have a higher risk of mortality, as they do with lung cancer, chronic disease management may be not as big a focus."
For the study, the team examined electronic medical record data of 323 male veterans diagnosed with lung cancer.
The median survival rate for those without primary care utilization was found to be only 3.68 months, but increased by a factor of more than four if the patient had at least 3 primary care visits during the first 6 months following cancer diagnosis.
It was found that the lack of primary care utilization in the first six months of lung cancer diagnosis had a noticeable effect on survival even if the extent of cancer was controlled.
"Further investigation is needed to gain a better understanding of how and why primary care utilization improved outcomes in lung cancer patients. What we do know is that over 80 percent of lung cancer patients have at least one additional serious medical condition," said Dr. Doebbeling.
She added: "The take home message to cancer patients is to not stop seeing your primary care doctor even if you have cancer. The importance of managing the health of the whole person, not just one disease at a time, cannot be overstated."
The study is published in the recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.