More Americans Surviving Cancer

Cancer Survivors Now Number Nearly 10 Million

From the WebMD Archives

June 24, 2004 -- Life after cancer is a reality for a growing number of Americans who are now described as cancer survivors rather than cancer victims.

A new report from the CDC and National Cancer Institute shows that in 2001, 9.8 million people in the U.S. were cancer survivors compared with only 3 million who were living with cancer 30 years ago.

Researchers say that advances in early detection and treatment have made cancer a curable disease for some and a chronic disease for others. But cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease.

"The number of cancer survivors in this country has increased steadily over the past three years for all cancers combined. We expect the number of survivors to increase as improvements are made in cancer detection, treatment, and care and as the population ages," says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, in a news release.

Cancer survivors include all living persons who have ever been diagnosed with cancer.

Cancer Survivors Growing

To determine how the population of cancer survivors has changed, researchers examined cancer data collected from 1971-2001. The results appear in the June 25 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Researchers say that in 1971, an estimated 1.5% of the U.S. population was living with cancer. By 2001 that percentage had grown to 3.5%.

The study shows that in 2001 breast cancer survivors made up the largest group of cancer survivors (accounting for 22%), followed by prostate cancer survivors (17%), and colorectal cancer survivors (11%).

Other findings include:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults diagnosed with cancer today can expect to be living in five years in the absence of other competing causes of death.
  • The majority (61%) of cancer survivors are aged 65 and older.
  • 79% of childhood cancer survivors will be living five years after diagnosis and nearly 75% will be living 10 years following their cancer diagnosis.

"In the past, public health programs concentrated on early detection and prevention of cancer," says CDC medical officer Loria Pollack, MD. "However, the focus has now expanded to include cancer survivorship, transforming survivorship research into practice, and developing clinical guidelines to provide attentive follow-up and health promotion to survivors."

According to researchers, common issues faced by cancer survivors include:

  • Maintaining optimal physical and mental health
  • Preventing disability and late-effects related to cancer and its treatment
  • Ensuring social and economic well-being for themselves and their family
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SOURCES: News release, CDC. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, June 24, 2004; vol 53: pp 526-529.