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Deborah Mayer, Ph.D., R.N., AOCN, FAAN, Professor at the School of Nursing, Director of Cancer Survivorship at UNC Lineberger, is a national pioneer on research in cancer survivorship. Her work sheds light on the best ways to monitor and manage care for cancer survivors long after diagnosis and treatment. She is a staunch advocate for serving patients’ needs and the importance of good communication.


By Susan Hudson, University Gazette

A registered nurse and professor in the School of Nursing, Deborah Mayer is also a national pioneer in research on cancer survivorship. Earlier this year, she was named director of cancer survivorship at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she leads the effort to enhance clinical and research initiatives for cancer survivors.

Mayer is a breast cancer survivor herself, for seven years now, but she’s quick to point out that her research interest grew out of her 40 years as an oncology nurse. For the relatively few patients who survived cancer that long ago, “we had a sort of ‘treat ‘em and street ‘em philosophy,” Mayer said.

But newer and better methods for early detection and treatment mean that an estimated 14.5 million Americans are cancer survivors – and can’t be simply dismissed without further monitoring and management.

“Now we know there needs to be surveillance for the cancer coming back and surveillance for side effects and late effects of treatment,” Mayer said. “Anything strong enough to treat a cancer is going to have some residual effects for many people. At least a third (of cancer patients) can experience significant long-term late effects.”

A 2006 Institute of Medicine report, “Lost in Transition,” recommended the creation of survivorship care plans. Recognizing the need for such plans was a major step forward for survivors, Mayer said, but medical professionals found it too complicated and time-consuming to put the plans together. They also couldn’t bill for that time, so very few care plans were being written and delivered.

To address the problem, Mayer chaired an American Society of Clinical Oncology work group to design a care plan with the patient in mind. The four committee members thought like patients and pared down the complicated plan to focus on what patients and their primary care providers wanted and needed to know. During the two-year process, the committee cut 80 percent of the original content and then pilot-tested the new version.

The result is a streamlined form – one page, front and back – that not only sums up the patient’s past problems and treatments, but also tells the patient what to expect next, what is considered normal and what should trigger a visit to the doctor.

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