Cancer survivors in the US: 14.5 million strong and growing

LOS ANGELES – A new report identifies a group of Americans that is expected to grow by 30 percent over the next decade: cancer survivors.

As of Jan. 1, there were nearly 14.5 million people alive in the United States who had been diagnosed with some type of cancer. By 2024, that figure is projected to reach 18.9 million, according to a report released this week by the American Cancer Society.

The authors of the report – from the ACS and the National Cancer Institute – define a cancer “survivor” as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still alive. That includes patients who are undergoing treatment as well as those who have finished treatment and are considered cancer-free.

The growth in cancer survivors is not an indication that cancer rates are rising; in fact, the rates (adjusted for age) have actually declined over the past 10 years, the report notes. But since the U.S. population is both aging and growing, the total number of cancer patients is bound to increase.

In 2014, half of the cancer survivors were diagnosed before the age of 66 and half were diagnosed after, the report says. But the median age at diagnosis varies greatly depending on the type of cancer someone gets. For patients with acute lymphocytic leukemia, the median age is 14; for patients with testicular cancer, it’s 33; for those with bladder cancer, it’s 73.

Today, 64 percent of all cancer survivors have lived at least five years since their diagnosis. That includes the 15 percent of people who have lived at least 20 years since being told they have cancer. A great many of these survivors have gone on to live long lives, with 46 percent of them reaching their 70th birthday.

For men, the largest group of cancer survivors in 2014 is the 43 percent who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. They are followed by the 9 percent who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer; the 8 percent who were diagnosed with melanoma; and the 7 percent who were diagnosed with bladder cancer. Those four cancers will continue to account for the four largest groups of male cancer survivors in 2024, the report authors predict.

Among women, survivors of breast cancer are by far the largest group – they make up 41 percent of female cancer survivors in 2014. Survivors of uterine cancer and colorectal cancer each account for 8 percent of the total, followed by melanoma (7 percent) and thyroid cancer (6 percent). By 2024, colorectal cancer survivors will overtake uterine cancer survivors, though not by much, according to the report’s projections.

For both men and women, all of the 10 most common types of cancer survivors in 2014 will still be on the Top 10 list in 2024, the report says.

Many types of cancer are about as common in women as in men. For instance, survivors of colorectal cancers account for 9 percent of male cancer survivors and 8 percent of female cancer survivors. Similarly, survivors of melanoma account for 8 percent of male cancer survivors and 7 percent of female cancer survivors. People who have been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma account for 4 percent of both male and female cancer survivors, and those who have been diagnosed with lung and bronchus cancers make up 3 percent of cancer survivors of both genders.

“The growing number of cancer survivors in the U.S. makes it increasingly important to understand the unique medical and psychosocial needs of survivors,” ACS epidemiologist Carol DeSantis, the lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Cancer survivors face numerous, important hurdles created by a fractured health care system, poor integration of survivorship care, and financial and other barriers to quality care, particularly among the medically underserved.”

The report was published online Sunday in the ACS journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

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