• Center on Health Equity and Access
  • Clinical
  • Health Care Cost
  • Health Care Delivery
  • Insurance
  • Policy
  • Technology
  • Value-Based Care

Post-Treatment Surveillance for Cancer Survivors


Fox Chase Cancer Center's Crystal Denlinger, MD, presented Optimal Post-Treatment Surveillance: Is More Really Better?, addressing a topic that challenges not only patients and their physicians, but also payers as the nation moves toward a healthcare system defined by the maxim "better quality at a lower cost."

Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Crystal Denlinger, MD, presented Friday with Terry S. Langbaum, MAS, of Johns Hopkins at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's 19th Annual Conference. The pair outlined what patients and providers should know about surveillance after the initial wave of cancer care ends.

Ms Langbaum, a cancer administrator who has had Hodgkin’s disease, and Dr Denlinger, a medical oncologist and specialist in gastric cancer, opened the discussion by laying out a common misconception: patients who have survived cancer assume that good follow-up care means lots of tests and scans. But as Dr Denlinger showed, the evidence says that isn’t so.

Her presentation, “Optimal Post-Treatment Surveillance: Is More Really Better?” addressed a topic that challenges not only for patients and their physicians, but also payers and accountable care organizations (ACOs) as the nation moves to a healthcare system searching for better quality at a lower cost. First, Dr Denlinger opened her “less is more” argument with a few realities: Most recurrences are picked up symptoms, not scans or exams; the risk of recurrence is greatest within the first 5 years of diagnosis; and, a cure with treatment after a recurrence is unlikely in most cancers, although palliative care can extend life and bring better quality.

While there are arguments in favor of active surveillance with multiple tests, there are also downsides, especially as cancer patients live longer, Dr Denlinger said. Exposures to too much radiation and procedures carry their own risks, burden patients with added costs and anxiety, and can get in the way of more productive elements of survivorship care, such as making positive lifestyle changes. Concerns about the cumulative effect of too much imaging were borne out in a 2009 study. Over 22 years, a cohort of 31,462 US patients were studied, and it was determined that repeated computed tomography (CT) exposure adds to baseline cancer risk; while most patients accrued low radiation-induced cancer risks, a small subgroup of 7% had higher risks due to the cumulative effects of repeat CT imaging.2

“A CT scan is not as benign as one might have thought,” Dr Denlinger said. “The evidence shows there is a subset facing a cancer risk just from the radiation (of the tests).” What’s more, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is starting to limit the number of lifetime scans a person may have to reduce these dangers, she said.

If testing occurs, it should be meaningful. Dr Denlinger offered some parameters:

  • The interval between tests, and the duration of testing should align with the maximal recurrence risk and tumor history.
  • Testing should be directed at the sites where recurrence is most likely.
  • Testing should have high predictive value.
  • Don’t test unless a there is a therapy available for a cure, to prolong life, or to provide relief of symptoms.
  • Test if there is an increased risk of a secondary malignancy, based on shared risk but knowing the complications of therapy.

Dr Denlinger then went through a variety of studies and scenarios across breast, colorectal (CRC), lung, gastric, prostate and ovarian cancers, indicating where surveillance would be most beneficial. It turns out that of the major cancers, recent evidence shows CRC survivors benefit the most from regular carcinoembryonic antigen testing, with CT at 12-18 month intervals.3

Surveillance after lung cancer is controversial and the subject of mixed results, Dr Denlinger said, in part because 50% of cancer recurrence for these patients occurs outside the lung. Before cancer hits, the US Preventive Service Task Force last year called for lung cancer screenings for older smokers and former smokers meeting certain criteria; Dr Denlinger said the most important “survivorship” issue for lung cancer patients who are smokers is to make sure they quit.

Dr Denlinger acknowledged that the “less is more” approach will require some adjustments, but it’s essential. “Survivors are living longer. Many, many survivors are living past that 5-year mark. We are potentially doing them harm. It’s going to take some mindset changing,” she said.


  1. Mulcahy N. Oncologist survives plane crash, gives NCCN talk. Medscape Multispecialty. March 14, 2014. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/822040.
  2. Sodickson A, Baeyans PF, Andriole KP et al. Recurrent CT, cumulative radiation exposure, and associated radiation-induced cancer risks from CT of adults. Radiology. 2009; 251: 175-184
  3. Primrose JN, Perera R, Gray A, et al. Effect of 3 to 5 years of scheduled CEA and CT follow-up to detect recurrence of colorectal cancer: the FACS randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;311(3):263-270.
Related Videos
Debra Boyer, MD, MHPE, ATSF.
Mila Felder, MD, FACEP, emergency physician and vice president for Well-Being for All Teammates, Advocate Health
ISPOR 2024 Recap
Screenshot of Stephen Freedland, MD, during a video interview
Phaedra Corso, PhD, associate vice president for research at Indiana University
William Padula, PhD, MSc, MS, assistant professor of pharmaceutical and health economics, University of California Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Screenshot of Angela Jia, MD, PhD, during a video interview
Nancy Dreyer, MPH, PhD, FISE, chief scientific advisor to Picnic Health
Screenshot of Alexander Kutikov, MD, during a video interview
Neil Goldfarb, CEO, Greater Philadelphia Business Coalition on Health
Related Content
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences
All rights reserved.