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Cancer Health Center

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U.S. Has Nearly 12 Million Cancer Survivors

Rising Number of Survivors Attributed to Improvements in Diagnosis, Treatment, and Follow-up Care
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 10, 2011 -- Julia J. Rowland, PhD, loves her job -- and she should. Its very existence is based around the good news in our ongoing war against cancer.

As director of the National Cancer Institute’s office of cancer survivorship in Bethesda, Md., Rowland sees firsthand how improvements in the early detection and treatment of many cancers are allowing growing numbers of people to call themselves “cancer survivors.”

New research in the CDC’sMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for March 11 shows that there are now nearly 12 million cancers survivors in the U.S., up from 3 million in 1971 and 9.8 million in 2001.

The increase is due to improvements in diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care as well as the growing aging population.

“A lot of wonderful things have happened,” Rowland says. “This is very good news.”

The cancers with the greatest number of survivors include breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer, the new report shows. There were also dramatic improvements in survival rates for childhood cancers. “We certainly do need better outcomes for pancreatic, lung, brain, and ovarian cancers,” Rowland says.

In the new report, researchers used information on the number of new cancer diagnoses, follow-up data from National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program from 1971 to 2007, and U.S. census data from 2006 and 2007 to estimate the number of people diagnosed with cancer who were still alive on Jan. 1, 2007. The analysis did not include non-melanoma skin cancers which are treatable and common.

Health Needs of Cancer Survivors

The growing numbers of cancer survivors have health needs and challenges that are not yet fully understood, Rowland says.

“These stats tell us this wonderful success story, but at what cost are we curing and controlling cancer?” Rowland says. Some cancer treatments do have significant side effects that may linger, she says.

“More and more people realize that some cancers are curable and others can be controlled,” Rowland says.

“Life is not over when you get cancer,” says Arica White, PhD, MPH, an epidemic intelligence service officer in the CDC’s division of cancer prevention and control in Atlanta.

“There is tons of research going on right now that is trying to understand this population's medical and public health needs and make efforts to meet the needs,” she says. “We want to encourage all Americans, including cancer survivors, to quit smoking, engage in regular activity, and eat healthy foods.”

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