Millions More Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors will total about 18 million by 2022

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) There has never been a better time to be a cancer survivor. The number of people who are living beyond the dreaded disease has been climbing since the 1970s. And millions more may join the crowd in the coming years.

The American Association of Cancer Research has released its Second Annual Report on Cancer Survivorship in the United States, and the news is excellent.

The number of survivors in the US is expected to increase by 31 percent – to 18 million people – by the year 2022.

"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," said the researcher.

"If you’ve had cancer, stay in touch with your health team."

Researchers combed through government databases – including the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program and population projections from the US Census Bureau – to arrive at these estimates.

At the beginning of 2012, nearly 14 million people in the US had lived through a cancer diagnosis. That represents a nearly 3.5-fold increase over the number of survivors in 1975.

In 2022, an additional four million people will join those ranks. That’s a 31 percent increase in the decade from 2012 to 2022.

Most of these increases are due to the aging of the population. One of the study’s authors, Julia Rowland, PhD, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, said, “By 2020, we expect that two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be age 65 or older.”

Paiman Ghafoori, MD, a radiation oncologist at Austin Cancer Centers, told dailyRx News, “This trend is in part explained by an aging population, but it also points to encouraging and exciting advances that have taken place in cancer early detection and treatments."

"Similar studies may be helpful in trying to understand what impact screening programs have had on these survival trends, such as: PSA screening (prostate cancer), mammography (breast cancer), colonoscopies (colorectal cancers), pap smears (cervical cancer) and other similar testing programs."

"Furthermore, it will allow us to properly select new screening programs that may have a similar impact on future patients, such as low dose chest CT scans for patients at high risk for lung cancer,” Dr. Ghafoori said.

What’s particularly encouraging is that survivors are living longer, according to the Report.

In 2012, the number of people living 15 years after their cancer diagnosis was 3.4 million, or 25 percent of all survivors. In 2022, people in this group will increase to 5 million or 28 percent of all survivors.

The report also found:

  • Proportion of survivors who are 5 years or more beyond diagnosis will increase from 64 percent to 67 percent.
  • Breast cancer survivors made up the largest community of cancer survivors in 2012 – nearly 3 million.
  • The next largest groups were prostate cancer survivors (2.8 million), followed by colorectal cancer survivors (1.2 million).
  • While prostate and breast cancer survivors are the most prevalent, accounting for 22 and 20 percent of all survivors, those living beyond the second most common cancer – lung cancer – will make up only 3 percent of the entire survivor population.

Having more cancer survivors who are living longer will present challenges, Dr. Rowland pointed out.

These individuals are more likely to have additional conditions to treat, such as diabetes or heart disease, and an estimated 16 percent (nearly 3 million people) will have had previous bouts with cancer.

The report was published in the AACR's journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 24, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013