For cancer survivors, the quality and availability of survivorship services is crucial to addressing their health needs following treatment. Researchers from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences of Keck School of Medicine, Kimberly A. Miller, PhD, MPH, David R. Freyer, DO, MS, and PhD candidate Julia Stal, are conducting a study to describe services currently available to people with adult-onset cancer across the country.
The research team is collaborating with the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (ACS CoC), a renowned consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for patients with cancer. This premier national accrediting body treats 86% of patients with cancer in the U.S., at over 1,500 ACS CoC-accredited institutions. “By characterizing the services available across the country through this organization, we can better understand the landscape of survivorship care to identify what’s working and where there are gaps,” explains Miller.
Stal, who has broad cancer survivorship training, has been central in facilitating this project. She is a fifth-year PhD candidate in the Doctor of Philosophy in Preventive Medicine (Health Behavior Research) program at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “Julia is incredibly passionate about improving outcomes for cancer survivors,” affirms Miller, her primary mentor. “She has developed and launched a study under our mentorship, and the ACS CoC has appointed her as a Research Scholar. Through this designation, she is the only one at USC who has the ability to work with these proprietary data,” acknowledges Miller.
“I’m impressed she is doing this level of work at this early point of her career. Students seldom have an opportunity to work at such a high level with the leadership of an organization that sets the standard for cancer care nationally. To have this experience and be an investigator among a team of seasoned researchers is a unique experience that will propel her cancer survivorship research career,” recognizes Freyer, director of survivorship services at both Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Cancer affects millions of people worldwide. My goal is to improve cancer care delivery and ultimately quality of life for individuals affected by cancer. Research allows me to do this by being an active producer of knowledge that can yield positive change. Over time, my advisor, Dr. Miller, has helped me refine my cancer research interests and has taught me that we go where we are needed, with openness and humility,” remarks Stal. “With this in mind, our study stems from a clear knowledge gap. The opportunity to map out survivorship services on such a wide scale will help optimize the standard of survivorship care offered nationally.”
“For me, this is a shift from focusing exclusively on younger populations and is exciting new territory. Dr. Freyer initially had the idea for this research, noting how little was known about the scattered and heterogenous survivorship services available nationally for long-term survivors of adult-onset cancer,” reports Stal.
“We recently completed data collection and Julia is now analyzing these data. We received feedback from hundreds of cancer sites across the U.S. and are excited to understand and ultimately disseminate these findings with ACS CoC leadership,” discloses Miller.
As for Stal, she says this experience has been more than she could have asked for. “More than anything, I want my research to produce meaningful value that is implemented in practice, but rarely as researchers do we see our findings rapidly applied in the delivery of cancer care. Collaborating with the ACS CoC not only allowed us to reach so many cancer centers nationally, but it allowed us to develop our study in a way that would be most beneficial to their modification of survivorship care standards moving forward,” she says.
Aside from this study, Stal’s dissertation focuses on the fertility experiences of ethnically diverse adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. “My dissertation research and this project with the ACS CoC share the same sentiment in advocating for comprehensive cancer survivorship care. Patients have a right to receive actionable health care and deserve to have the resources and information needed for positive quality of life after cancer.”