There are currently 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States and the number is expected to rise by 31% to 18 million by 2022, according to a new report.
"Cancer is often not the immediately fatal diagnosis it often was in the past," said one expert, Dr William Oh, chief of the division of hematology/oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. He was not involved in the new report, which comes from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).
More cancer survivors can be expected
As the American population gets older, more cancer survivors can be expected, added Julia Rowland, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the US National Cancer Institute. "By 2020, we expect that two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be aged 65 or older," she said in an AACR news release.
The report, based on an analysis of national data, also found that patients with certain types of cancers account for a large proportion of the survivors. For example, breast cancer patients account for 22% of survivors, while prostate cancer survivors account for 20%.
People with lung cancer, the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, account for only 3% of survivors, according to the report.
Prostate cancer patients nearly have 100% rate
"For patients with prostate cancer, we have a nearly 100% five-year survival rate, and breast cancer has made tremendous strides as well, with five-year survival rising from 75% in 1975 to almost 89% in 2012," Rowland said. "However, we clearly need to have better diagnostic tools and better treatments for lung cancer."
She said the rising number of cancer survivors will present challenges for the health care system.
"How to ensure that these patients lead not only long lives, but healthy and productive lives, will be a vital challenge to all of us," Rowland said.
Oh agreed. "This important paper highlights an observation most oncologists have made over the past several years -- namely that with earlier diagnosis and better treatments, the numbers of cancer survivors is rapidly increasing," he said. "The urgent need though is for us to better understand how to care for cancer survivors. As cancer becomes a 'chronic disease,' we need more research to optimally manage the patients who survive cancer."
The report appears in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention and will be presented at the AACR annual meeting, held from April 6 to 10 in Washington, DC.
The US National Institutes of Health has more about cancer survivors.