18 Million U.S. Cancer Survivors Expected by 2022: Report

Most survivable cancers are those diagnosed and treated early, experts say

THURSDAY, June 14, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- There are now more than 13 million cancer survivors living in the United States and that number is expected to reach 18 million in just 10 years, a new report predicts.

This dramatic increase will be driven, in large part, by a combination of earlier diagnosis and better treatment of some of the most common cancers, according to the report from the American Cancer Society and the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"We are focusing on the number of people who are now alive who have experienced cancer at some time in the past, and their transition from treatment to recovery and the balance of their life," said report co-author Elizabeth Ward, national vice president of intramural research at the American Cancer Society.

More people are surviving cancer because the number of people diagnosed with cancer is rising and because the size of this population, particularly older cancer survivors, is growing, she said. In addition, survival for some of the most common cancers is increasing.

But, cancer survivors do have potential problems, including issues with quality of life and the need for both physical and psychological follow-up care, Ward said.

"Cancer survival can affect one's life long-term," she said. Cancer survivors shouldn't feel abandoned after treatment has stopped.

People may have psychological concerns including fear of the cancer's return. "These patients are not alone. There are lots of public and private support services available," Ward said.

The report was published June 14 in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

According to the research, although the rate of cancers is decreasing, the number of survivors is increasing as the population ages and grows.

Among men, the most common survivable cancers are prostate (43 percent), colon cancer (9 percent) and melanoma (7 percent). Among women they are breast (41 percent), uterine (8 percent) and colon cancer (8 percent). These percentages are expected to be the roughly the same in 2022, the report noted.

Other findings include:

  • About 45 percent of cancer survivors are aged 70 or older.
  • Only 5 percent of cancer survivors are under 40.
  • The average age at cancer diagnosis is 66.
  • There are more than 58,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the United States. More than 12,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
  • 64 percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed five or more years ago.
  • 15 percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed 20 years ago or more.

Dr. Anthony D'Amico, chief of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, said he is concerned that the data reflect patients who were treated needlessly and are included in these numbers.

"It is good news that survival appears to be increasing in some of the common cancers," he said. "This likely reflects improved treatment, screening and perhaps some overdiagnosis."

Overdiagnoses and overtreatment are most common in prostate and breast cancer, he said. "In many cases, these people would be alive if they hadn't been treated," he said.

More information

For more on surviving cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

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