Cancer Survivors Article
Who is a cancer survivor?
A cancer survivor is any individual that has been diagnosed with cancer. The term is general, and this means that cancer survivorship begins at the time of diagnosis. This definition includes those completely cancer free after treatment, those with late-stage cancer, anyone newly diagnosed, and anyone in between.
The National Institute of Health has released statistics regarding cancer survivorship in the United States.
- There are over 18 million cancer survivors in the United States as of this year, accounting for approximately 5.4% of the population.
- The number of cancer survivors is projected to continue to grow. In 10 years, it is estimated we will see a 24.4% increase in cancer survivors, bringing the total number of cancer survivors to approximately 22.5 million.
- 69% of cancer survivors have lived 5 or more years since diagnosis.
- 47% of cancer survivors have lived 10 or more years since diagnosis.
- 18% of cancer survivors have lived 20 or more years since diagnosis.
- 67% of cancer survivors are over the age of 65.
Why is the number of cancer survivors increasing?
As early detection methods have improved and more individuals are completing their preventative screenings for cancer on time, we have seen an increase in cancer diagnoses. Preventative screenings are used to identify cancer before the individual has any symptoms of it. Completing these screenings has been shown to lead to better outcomes for patients that are diagnosed with cancer.
In addition, cancer treatments are also improving. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, which are each commonly used in cancer treatments are being utilized in more efficient ways. There are also new treatments available for treatments, including targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Advancements in palliative care and supportive care have also improved, which limit the side-effects active cancer patients experience and limit treatment schedule changes induced by symptoms.
Cancer research is continually being conducted, which works to improve every aspect of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Many common forms of research include cell line work, clinical trials, and more.
What to Expect as a Survivor
A cancer diagnosis impacts every patient differently. Some may find they have a hard time coping, and others may have an improved sense of appreciation for life and accepting themselves as they are. Most individuals have the sentiment that a cancer diagnosis changes things, and that life will be different. While some aspects of life will change, what changes from person to person will be different. Some changes you may expect, and others might take you off guard.
Common experiences among cancer survivors include:
- Having new or changing psychological support needs with self-image, anxiety, or grief
- Uncertainty of what the future holds
- Fear of dying; fear that cancer will return if in remission
- Feeling guilty following successful cancer treatments
- Long-term physical side effects, including sexual health and fertility problems
- Changes in eating and exercise habits
- Interest in giving back to the cancer community
- Relationship changes or strain among friends and family
- Experiencing a transition as you adjust to cancer treatments or out of them
Having conversations with those in your circle will be important but needs to come on your own terms. Relationships may shift following a cancer diagnosis, you may find that some individuals grow closer to you while others drift apart. Relationships may shift.
Your work life will also be impacted if you are employed. Some individuals continue to work during treatment, while others take time off to focus on treatments. In some cases, they are unable to return to work because of cancer and the treatment of it. No matter your situation, you will experience changes in your work life as you adjust to your new reality. Some individuals report that relationships with coworkers may be influenced by your diagnosis, and others report that they have experienced workplace discrimination because of their diagnosis.
Patients that defeat cancer and enter remission may have an entirely new set of questions, starting with, what comes next? Cancer.net has some strong resources for those who enter remission, which we encourage you to check them out.
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship offers the survivorship checklist, which is designed to be a straightforward tool for both patients and caregivers to use as a guide for critical information.
If you are interested in learning more about survivorship resources, the NCCS has also collected survivorship resources in one place, which is broken down into generic resources as well as tailored to specific cancer types.
Community Health Works hosts Death Over Dinner, which is an event for cancer survivors to come together and share a meal as we normalize conversations surrounding death and dying with dignity.