As of January 2016, the number of cancer survivors in the United States is at 15.5 million and the American Cancer Society (ACS) expects it to increase to 20 million after 10 years, a new report has revealed.

Every two years, the ACS collaborates with the National Cancer Institute to plot an estimate of cancer survivors in the United States. In the latest data, they have found that the number of survivors is increasing because of the significant improvement in the diagnosis and treatment process, an aging population and population growth

Age And Type Of Cancers

Cancer survivors were defined as individuals previously diagnosed with cancer. It also includes patients currently on cancer therapy and those declared cancer-free for 30 years.

The survivors were also noted to vary according to type of cancer, but advanced age is observed to be more common. Survivors aged 70 years and above comprised 47 percent of survivors, while more than 65,000 were those aged 14 years old and below.

Of the survivors, 56 percent were diagnosed with cancer in the last 10 years and about a third were diagnosed half a decade ago. The report also noted that as much as 21 percent of female survivors were diagnosed about 20 years ago versus 13 percent of males.

The report also mentioned the most common types of cancers among the survivors. For men, the most common is prostate cancer with more than 3.3 million survivors. It is followed by colorectal cancer and melanoma with nearly 725,000 and 614,000 survivors, respectively. For women, the top three cancers are breast, uterine and colorectal cancer at close to 3.5 million, 757,000 and 727,000 survivors, respectively.

However, these numbers do not indicate that these cancers are the most frequently diagnosed malignancies. Kimberly Miller, an epidemiologist at ACS and the report's lead researcher, clarified that the numbers are based on the cancer history of the survivors. For instance, lung cancer ranks as the second most common malignancy in men, but since it has a poor survival rate, it is only found in few cancer survivors.

"Despite increasing awareness of survivorship issues and the resiliency of cancer survivors, many challenges remain. These include a fractured health care system, poor integration of survivorship care between oncology and primary care settings, lack of strong evidence-based guidelines for post-treatment care and financial and other barriers to quality care, particularly among the medically underserved," the researchers concluded.

Overall Health Of Cancer Survivors

The researchers believe there should be more long-term support systems in place to help the survivors with the challenges they are more likely to face.

"Many cancer survivors have to cope with long-term physical and psychological effects of their cancer treatment," said Miller. The community must be aware of the present and future needs of the survivors.

Cancer does not only target a specific organ, it also significantly affects the emotions and psyche of the patient, said Lenox Hill Hospital surgical oncology chief Dr. Stephanie Bernik. Bernik hopes programs tailored to address the overall aspects of cancer care will become available in the future.

Reports like this are carried out to help health care providers identify the population of cancer survivors they need to assist on a long-term basis.

How can primary care physicians help with this?

Miller said the patient-doctor relationship must be strengthened in order to cope with the challenges of the disease. Physicians must work on getting more education on how to support their patients and in turn, patients must religiously follow-up with their doctors.

Doctors can advise survivors to maintain a healthy lifestyle and, if necessary, make referrals to mental health experts. One area where doctors can help is by guiding the survivors, especially the young females, on fertility preservation.

The report is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians on June 2.

Photo: Sheila Sund | Flickr

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