By Kevin Stein, PhD
June is turning out to be big month for cancer survivors. Not only did we celebrate National Cancer Survivor Day on the 7th, but the Society is also co-hosting the 6th Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Conference June 14 -16 in Arlington, VA.
And the American Cancer Society has just released the first-ever Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures, the newest addition to our Facts & Figures publications. The report highlights the continued increase in numbers of cancer survivors in the United States. Survivors are defined as any person with cancer from the time of diagnosis on.
We estimate that there are now 13.7 million Americans alive today who have a history of cancer, and that this number is expected to grow to nearly 18 million by 2022.
Much of this growth is related to the increase in the US population, but also to the fact that the fastest-growing segment of the population is persons age 70 and older, the age group when most cancer diagnoses occur. Close to half of all cancer survivors are over the age of 70, while only 1 in 20 is less than 40 years old. Having said this, we do have to say that cancer can strike at any age. This new publication reports that there are close to 60,000 survivors of childhood cancers living in the United States (and 12,060 children will be diagnosed in 2012).
The report also provides details about the most common cancers among survivors in the US. Among male survivors, the 3 most common cancers are prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and melanoma, and for women, breast, uterine, and colorectal cancer are most common.
The number of survivors by time since diagnosis is also given in the publication. This information shows that a majority of cancer survivors (64%) were diagnosed 5 or more years ago, and 15% were diagnosed 20 or more years ago. Some factors that contribute to people surviving cancer include more people getting recommended cancer screening tests, better methods of finding cancer early, when it is most treatable, and improvements in cancer treatments.
The report also includes information on treatment, survival, and common concerns of survivors for 11 selected cancers. Also included are sections on the effects of cancer and its treatment, palliative care, long-term survivorship, concerns of caregivers and families, and the benefits of healthy behaviors. Common side effects of cancer treatments, such as pain, fatigue, and emotional distress, are described, as are other conditions that may occur months or even years after cancer treatment has been completed.
Many cancer patients find it sometimes difficult to transition from being a person receiving treatment under the careful eye of their oncologist to being disease-free and done with treatment. They now are part of the unfamiliar world of after-treatment survivorship care. (For more information on this, check out the Expert Voices blog about the key to good care for cancer survivors.) After treatment, they face common fears and concerns - the worry that one's cancer will return, getting bad news, or feeling uncertain about their future heath. These fears can stay with the person for a long after treatment is completed and may affect their quality of life. But not all outcomes of having cancer are bad - many survivors report that they have a new appreciation for life, are more effective in coping with stress, have improved relationships with family and friends, and have greater meaning and purpose in their life.
The report addresses ways to cope with after-treatment survivorship care and achieve good quality of life. (One such strategy is to use a Survivorship Care Plan, a tool to help survivors and their doctors and nurses monitor for cancer recurrence and late effects of treatment. It also encourages healthy living through regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco products, maintaining a schedule of routine follow-up visits with doctors and nurses, and getting the recommended screening tests or cancer and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.)
The report also provides information on choosing a cancer doctor and a treatment facility, making important treatment decisions, understanding clinical trials, and overcoming common barriers to cancer treatment.
The report also gives information on the American Cancer Society and how we can help cancer patients, survivors, and their families cope with the challenges of the cancer experience. Our 24-hour, 7 day a week National Cancer Information Center (call 1-800-227-2345) and other ACS programs and services provide emotional support, transportation, lodging, educational courses, and cancer-specific information. A special section outlines the activities of the National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center (The Survivorship Center), a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the George Washington Cancer Institute, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With the release of this first edition of the Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures, The Society underscores its commitment to cancer survivors and their families. If you are a cancer survivor or caregiver, of if you are a health care professional interested in learning more about cancer treatment and survivorship, you will likely benefit from reading this report. The information provided is important to understanding the specific emotional and physical issues that cancer survivors and their loved ones face, as well as to identifying resources, information, and support that can help one through a cancer experience.
For more information about the Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures, see our news story.
Dr. Stein is managing director of the behavioral research center at the American Cancer Society.