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Seeing the Big Picture

Aug 21, 2023, 17:20 PM by Nyla Sauter

Primary care clinic for cancer survivors provides expertise and approach to long-term health care that many patients can’t find in traditional settings.

Cancer survivors face many types of challenges once their treatments are finished, including prolonged or permanent side effects, psychological challenges related to treatment and recovery, and impact of treatment on overall health. Many times, survivors find that traditional primary care providers aren’t equipped to deal with these factors. 

Bradley Wilson, a childhood leukemia cancer survivor and fourth-year medical student at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, found an answer to these issues at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center’s Oncology Primary Care Clinic. 

“It’s really important to have someone with more knowledge about things that cancer survivors face,” says Wilson. “It provides peace of mind knowing that my symptoms are being considered under the lens of my history and past treatment.” 

Wilson was introduced to the Oncology Primary Care Clinic by Melissa Erickson, MD, population science researcher and founder/director of the clinic. At the time, Erickson was the medical director of the Cancer Survivorship and Supportive Services Program. 

“Many of the patients I saw didn’t have primary care physicians,” Erickson says. “Some were in their early 20s and transitioning between a pediatrician and identifying a primary care provider (PCP). Others simply felt a disconnect between their oncology and PCP needs.” 

Both described Wilson.

“I know firsthand what a unique risk profile cancer patients have,” he says. “Having a PCP who understands that is invaluable.” 

The Oncology Primary Care Clinic opened in late 2019 as the first and only in the region. The clinic now operates three days a week with Erickson and Sara Kleinschmidt, MD, a palliative care physician who joined in spring 2023. 

“We work closely with oncologists and the entire medical team to manage our patients’ health in real time, discussing concerning symptoms that could warrant earlier scans or adjusting medications so they can undergo chemotherapy,” Erickson says. 

Providing Holistic Survivorship Care

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center's Oncology Care Primary Clinic is only one component of the Cancer Center's robust survivorship program. Other components include:

Cincinnati Children's Cancer Survivorship Program, started in 1987, provides specialized medical care and psychosocial support for childhood cancer survivors through adulthood. Every patient receives a risk-based evaluation that helps inform current and future healthcare providers of treatment-related health risks, symptoms to be aware of and appropriate cancer screening schedules. Acupuncture in ear

The Cancer Wellness Clinic provides integrative therapies, such as acupuncture, oncology massage therapy, cancer exercise and nutrition support, to help improve overall health and wellness. It also provides survivorship care to manage side effects during and after treatment. 

“When patients are first diagnosed with cancer, they’re often presented at a tumor board that brings together surgeons, oncologists and radiologists to come up with the best treatment plan,” Erickson says. “We do a similar thing here, but during and after cancer treatment.”