The History of Cancer

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Cancer survivorship

Only a few decades ago, the prognosis (outlook) for people facing cancer was not nearly as favorable as it is today. During the 1970s, about 1 of 2 people diagnosed with cancer survived at least 5 years. Now, more than 2 of 3 survive that long. Today there are more than 11 million cancer survivors in the United States alone.

Now that more people are surviving cancer, more attention than ever is focused on the quality of life and long-term outcomes of cancer survivors. Behavioral researchers are working to learn more about the problems survivors face. Some of these problems are medical, such as permanent side effects of treatment, the possibility of second cancers caused by treatment, and the need for long-term treatment and medical follow-up. Other problems are emotional or social challenges, like getting health insurance, discrimination by employers, relationship changes that may result from life-threatening illness, or learning to live with the possibility of cancer coming back.

Cancer was once a word that people were afraid to speak in public, and people rarely admitted to being a cancer survivor. Now, many celebrities and national leaders very openly discuss and share their cancer experiences. The view that cancer cannot be cured and the fears that have historically been attached to the disease are slowly changing.


Last Medical Review: 06/08/2012
Last Revised: 06/08/2012