Did the doctor say that I’m cured?

Understanding what the outcome of your treatment is key to moving forward in your life. You may have heard of the phrase “living beyond cancer”, and to live well means knowing where you stand, as far as it is possible to know. Your doctor will explain exactly what the blood tests and scans mean at the end of treatment, but often what is clear to the doctor may not be so clear to you.

Terms that are often used for the response to treatment:
Remission
Partial remission
Complete remission (CR)
Complete metabolic remission
Stable disease
Minimal/measurable residual disease
No active disease…
No test, no matter how good, will be reported as “Cure”.

What do they all mean and why are there so many different medical terms? It is complicated, as responses vary, the terms used may apply to specific tests (such as blood tests versus scans) and, to complicate matters further, the same term may have a different significance depending on the type of cancer! 

Let’s discuss a complete remission (CR). The usual meaning of a CR is that you have had a great response. How do we know that? From blood tests and scans, as appropriate for your disease, a CR means that none of the tests can find any evidence of the cancer. So, are you cured? This may sound a bit odd, but that is probably not the right question! There is the simple reason that proving that someone is cured means proving the absence of cancer. However, there is no way of proving that a negative result is 100% correct. Delving a bit deeper, what constitutes a cure? Does this mean that every single cancerous cell has been eliminated from your body? No. There are many examples of people in whom – using sophisticated tests – it is possible to detect very low levels of malignant cells after treatment, but they remain well. In fact, there are many examples of normal, healthy individuals having low levels of cancer cells detectable, even though they do not actually have cancer!

So, what does a CR mean for you? Well, it’s as good as it gets – it’s a positive outcome – and a great base to move forward from! However, a fundamental aspect of what any response means for you is uncertainty. We all want certainty, we do not like change, but living life means living with uncertainty and this is just as true after cancer treatment, as for someone who without cancer. Time is the only measure of cure and it is not a very helpful measure it means we are going to worry constantly about the future. If you struggle with the uncertainty about the future, the fear of relapse, then I would strongly encourage you to seek support for this.

If you are not sure about your response to treatment, or what it means, always ask your doctor or the clinical nurse specialist to explain it again. If you would like further support, then please contact me at the Wellness Script at www.wellnessscript.com.

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