Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis. Almost immediately, patients and their families are bombarded with information regarding their diagnosis, the initial outlook of treatment, potential financial obligations, and more. It can quickly become overwhelming. The evolution of the diagnosis, treatment and mortality rates of cancer has been promising. However, the process of obtaining a diagnosis and successfully navigating a treatment plan may be more confusing than ever before.
Although it is more effective than ever before, the treatment plans for cancer are increasingly complex. Navigating the U.S. healthcare system without any guidance can already be difficult. The complexity of a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan is compounded for patients with barriers to care - such as socioeconomic, health, or other obstacles.
“The social determinants of health – factors such as low education attainment and low health literacy, income and housing instability, personal and family safety – have a major impact on the ability to complete recommended cancer screening, diagnostic care and treatment in a timely fashion.” (Freund)
Cancer navigation programs and cancer navigators can be lifelines for patients and their families facing obstacles to care. This kind of support can change the trajectory of a care journey and help produce better patient outcomes. Here are just a few ways that cancer navigation programs can benefit cancer patients:
Coordination of Care
Cancer navigators are, foremost, guides for their patient’s care journey. They can help to coordinate all aspects of a patient’s treatment plan. This includes arranging appointments with various medical professionals, scheduling diagnostic tests, and managing communication between the patient and the medical team.
Having a single point of contact can reduce stress for both patients and their families. When patients have a liaison to their care, they can focus on healing.
Additionally, cancer navigators are essential in reducing the strain of cancer treatment on patients with obstacles to care. They ensure that patients move efficiently through the healthcare system by coordinating transportation, accommodations, and thorough communication.
Cancer treatment can be emotionally overwhelming. Cancer navigators can be a shoulder to lean on during a loved one’s difficult journey. In addition, they connect patients to resources to support their mental health throughout their journey and beyond.
Some of these resources can include:
- Cancer support groups
- Cancer-specific organizations
Guidance Through Financial or Insurance Issues
Treatment for cancer can get expensive, which can place an even greater burden on families. Cancer navigators help their patients to navigate insurance coverage, understand their finances, and assist with any billing or payment issues.
In addition, they can help patients access financial assistance programs or introduce them to further resources to help cover the cost of treatment.
Education and Information
Having access to information helps patients and their families make informed care decisions - and can help them feel more in control of their cancer journey.
Cancer navigators are reliable, educated resources that can assist their patients with any questions that they might have, including explaining their patient’s cancer diagnosis, treatment options, and potential side effects.
Their knowledge of the healthcare continuum, in addition to their cancer expertise, can ease additional fear or anxiety that comes with the unknown of a cancer diagnosis.
Overall, cancer navigators advocate for their patients to ensure that they receive the best possible care and support throughout their care journey.
Their rapport helps them to connect with the proper care team members to communicate their patient's needs and preferences. Each cancer patient’s journey is personal, and having someone in your corner to help you in the fight can mean all the difference.
How Can You Connect With a Cancer Navigator?
For someone interested in taking advantage of these resources, there are many avenues that can lead to a connection with a cancer navigator or cancer navigation program.
- Ask your healthcare provider: Many hospitals or cancer centers have cancer navigation or patient navigation professionals on staff. Talk with your doctor or your care team about what resources the facility might have and how to get in contact with them.
- Get in touch with a cancer patient advocacy organization: There are many third-party cancer navigation organizations that provide these services to cancer patients and their families. These organizations may be recommended by your care team or care facility. Or, patients can search online for local organizations.
- Ask other cancer patients: If a patient has connections to fellow cancer patients or cancer survivor groups, this can be a great resource. Reach out to support groups for their recommendations based on their past experiences.
Sources: Karen M. Freund (2017) Implementation of evidence-based patient navigation programs, Acta Oncologica, 56:2, 123-127, DOI: 10.1080/0284186X.2016.1266078