Published June 14, 2012
A new report by the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 18 million cancer survivors living in the U.S. by 2022. Currently, the number of people living with a history of cancer is estimated to be 13.7 million, meaning this would be an increase of nearly five million people in 10 years.
The report, which used data from the epidemiological SEER program funded by the National Cancer Institute, found that even as cancer incidence rates are decreasing, the number of cancer survivors is growing.
“[The increase in survivors] is primary due to aging and population growth – and certainly better treatment and higher rates of early detection at more curable stages, so that means more people living with a previous cancer diagnosis,” Carol DeSantis, an epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society and co-author of the report, told FoxNews.com.
According to the report, nearly half (45 percent) of cancer survivors are aged 70 and older. Only 5 percent are aged younger than 40 years. The median age of patients at the time of diagnosis is 66.
The most common types of cancers among male survivors in 2012 are prostate cancer (43 percent), colorectal cancer (9 percent) and melanoma (7 percent). The most common types of cancers among female survivors are breast cancer (41 percent), uterine (8 percent) and colorectal (8 percent).
These proportions of cancer types are expected to remain largely the same in 2022, according to the researchers.
The majority of cancer patients – 64 percent – were diagnosed five or more years ago, while 15 percent were diagnosed 20 or more years ago.
Because the survivor population is growing, DeSantis said it was important to understand and meet the unique needs of people living with a history of cancer.
“Many survivors have to cope with long-term and late effects of treatment, even after they’re declared cancer-free,” DeSantis said. “Some may be dealing with recurrence and other delayed effects.”
According to DeSantis, even though many cancer survivors report a relatively good quality of life years after diagnosis, some still may struggle with low bone density, fatigue, sexual problems or memory and thinking problems.
“[The side effects] are specific to the person’s cancer and type of treatment received,” she explained. “An issue after treatment is completed is that patients are no longer seeing their specialists on a regular basis, they’re turning to their primary care provider instead -- so it’s important for primary care providers to know about their patient’s cancer and treatment history in order to deal with any issues that may come up.”
Resources for cancer survivors are listed on the American Cancer Society website. Patients can also call the society’s hotline at 1-800-227-2345 to be matched with the services they need within their communities.