Did You Know... The Facts About Cancer Survivorship?

Author: Christina Bach, LCSW, MBE, OSW-C
Last Reviewed: June 09, 2022

Cancer survivorship has gotten a lot of media attention in recent years, but how much do you really know about survivorship?

The terms "survivor" and "survivorship" have different meanings for different people. One definition of a survivor is any person who has been diagnosed with cancer, whether or not they have completed treatment. Other definitions limit survivors to those who have completed treatment and are in remission. Some organizations also describe the loved ones of a person with cancer as a survivor (if you’ve been a caregiver, you know this is fitting!). Cancer survivorship is most often defined as the process of living with, through, and beyond cancer. The following facts may help you better understand the state of cancer survivorship today – it is a growing field of people and research, but more needs to be done!

  • There are an estimated 17 million cancer survivors living in the United States today.
  • This has increased from 3 million in 1971. The increase may be attributed to improved detection methods and treatments.
  • Between 2000 and 2050, the number of cancer survivors over the age of 65 is expected to double as the baby boomer generation ages.
  • One in every seven survivors was diagnosed over 20 years ago!
  • About 2 out of every 3 people diagnosed with cancer will be alive at least 5 years after diagnosis.
  • However, these numbers are lower in certain racial and ethnic groups. For example, 68% of all white patients diagnosed with cancer today will live more than five years, but only 61% of black patients.
  • 80% of people return to work after a cancer diagnosis, which can be challenging in many ways.
  • One in five survivors will have cancer-related work limitations up to five years after diagnosis. Despite this, studies have shown little, if any, difference in the work performance of cancer survivors who return to work. Even so, they often face discrimination in the workplace.
  • Many survivors describe their cancer journey as a life-changing event. They report a new outlook on life and a better ability to "not sweat the small stuff".
  • Treatment with surgery, chemotherapies (and other cancer treatments), and/or radiation can leave survivors at higher risk for health complications compared with their peers who have not had such treatments. Some complications may not develop for 10 or more years after treatment (these are often called late effects).
  • Survivors should keep records of the treatments they received for future reference. Use OncoPilot forms to organize a treatment record.
  • Survivors should have a survivorship care plan developed that helps them identify their risk for late effects, how to monitor for them, and preventive steps they can take. Use the OncoLife Survivorship Care Plan to develop a plan you can review with your healthcare team.

Cancer survivorship as a field of research is still quite new. There are many new therapies in recent years and we don’t yet know what issues they could cause long term. There is a long way to go in terms of improving outcomes for some racial and ethnic groups. We need to better educate the public about the amazing contributions cancer survivors have to make to society – and make sure they are not facing discrimination as a result of their diagnosis.

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