A new report by the American Association for Cancer Research estimates that there are almost 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S., a number that is expect to rise by 31% to 18 million by 2022. On the surface the news is good--especially for a handful of specific types of cancer—but in digging deeper we find old and new challenges yet to overcome.
First the Good News
In addition to providing estimates of cancer survival trends, the report shows that survival is not uniform across cancer subtypes. Currently, women with breast cancer account for 22 percent of survivors, while men with prostate cancer make up 20 percent.
For patients with prostate cancer, we have a nearly 100 percent five-year survival rate, and breast cancer treatment has also greatly improved, with five-year survival rising from 75 percent in 1975 to almost 89 percent in 2012.
While people with lung cancer, the second most common cancer in terms of diagnosis, only represent 3 percent of survivors, new research suggests that newer screening procedures could avert 12,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Compared with traditional chest x-rays, low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening reduced lung cancer deaths by 20% among current and former smokers age 55 to 74.
With earlier diagnosis and better treatments, the numbers of cancer survivors is rapidly increasing. Also, as the American population gets older, more cancer survivors can be expected. According to the report, by 2020, two-thirds of cancer survivors will be age 65 or older.
Taken together, these factors present new challenges for the healthcare community, including:
Preventing or finding ways to better manage side effects of cancer treatment such as “chemo brain,” fatigue, early menopause, infertility, and liver problems.
Treating older cancer patients who will likely have other coexisting health conditions.
Recurring or new cancers in an aging population. The report estimates that as many as 16% of older cancer patients will have had a previous malignancy.
So even as we continue to make strides in treating and curing cancers, ensuring that cancer survivors lead long, healthy and productive lives, will continue to be a challenge for healthcare providers.
American Society of Clinical Oncologists