Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

You've Survived Cancer: Now What?

People who have fought cancer and won may expect to go back to their ordinary lives. But life after cancer can be anything but ordinary.
By
WebMD Feature

Although public health experts like to point out that overall rates of death from cancer have not budged, some cancers are a lot more survivable than others. More than ever, a diagnosis of cancer today isn't necessarily the death sentence it may have been a 20 years ago.

"For some adult cancers, the survival rate can be as high as 70%," says Lindsay Nohr, executive director of Fertile Hope, a nonprofit group that educates cancer patients about how treatment may affect their ability to have children. "For some pediatric cancers, the cure rate can be even higher."

Recommended Related to Cancer

Who is at Risk?

Endometrial cancer is a disease that primarily affects postmenopausal women at an average age of 60 years at diagnosis. Risk factors include postmenopausal estrogen therapy, obesity, a high-fat diet, reproductive factors like nulliparity, early menarche and late menopause, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and tamoxifen use. Women with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome have a markedly increased risk of endometrial cancer compared with women in the general population.

Read the Who is at Risk? article > >

The simple goal of survival for many cancer patients becomes so all-encompassing that many survivors are badly under prepared to a return to everyday life.

Life After Survival

"People should have information about the psychosocial issues that they're going to face when they walk out of the hospital door," says Susan Nessim, founder of Cancervive, a group that aims to assist people who have experienced cancer deal with return to normal life. She also is author of Can Survive: Reclaiming Your Life After Cancer.

"Your relationship to everyone around you is going to change," says Nessim, who is a survivor of rhabdomyosarcoma, a childhood cancer of the muscles, which she developed in 1975 at age 17. "You may find yourself cutting off relationships that aren't working. You may want to change jobs because you've had this meaningful, life-changing experience.

"Once you finish treatment, people start moving away from you because they assume you're fine now," she says. "I was often was told, 'You look great, you've got your hair back, so just get on with your life.' But it's not that easy. Many of us are not prepared for the fact that everything isn't going to be what is was."

Beyond the difficulties of cancer treatment lie the more mundane problems of life as a survivor. Many cancer survivors have trouble keeping health coverage.

"It's common for a cancer survivor's health insurance premium to go up so high they can't afford coverage," says Nessim. "Or certain scans or procedures won't be allowed under the plan, so in one way or another, they get cut out of coverage."

Survivors may have substantial medical bills to pay down, and some employers are reluctant to hire someone who has had cancer because of fears the person will not physically be able to handle work.

"All types of discrimination may be faced by survivors," Nessim says. "Sometimes people return to work to find that their job is gone or they've been shifted to a lower position. They may find themselves loaded down with travel assignments in an effort to get rid of them. Employers know the bounds of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they can be very savvy about how to get around hiring people who have had cancer or other major health problems, such as AIDS."

Today on WebMD

Building a Support System
Blog
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
 
precancerous lesions slideshow
SLIDESHOW
quit smoking tips
SLIDESHOW
 
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
Blog
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
colorectal cancer treatment advances
Video
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
prostate cancer overview
SLIDESHOW
lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
Actor Michael Douglas
Article