By Andrew L. Salner, MD, FACR, FASTRO
Medical Director, Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital
The number of cancer survivors living in the United States continues to increase each year due to updated early detection practices and advances in treatment, as well as an aging population. In 2019, approximately 17 million Americans were cancer survivors. According to researchers from the American Cancer Society, this number is expected to reach some 22 million by 2030.
The most common diagnoses for female survivors are:
The most common diagnoses in male survivors are:
These figures do not include the large number of patients who suffered from non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell cancer) or non-invasive bladder cancer.
Of the 17 million survivors, more than two-thirds were diagnosed and treated more than five years ago, and 18% have survived their disease for more than 20 years. More than two-thirds of survivors are 65 or older, while 10% are under 50. About 52% of survivors are women.
Cancer is a common disease – approximately 43% of us will be diagnosed in our lifetime. As early detection and treatment continue to improve, the number of survivors will increase each year. The overall five-year survival rate after a cancer diagnosis has risen from 49% in 1975 to 63% in 1995 and nearly 70% today. As we celebrate these milestones, we realize that we still have a lot of work to do to develop new prevention strategies, screening techniques and therapies. Additionally, we also understand that cancer survivorship is associated with a complex set of issues that require attention on many fronts.
Enduring a cancer diagnosis and treatment not only affects patients physically, it can also affect them emotionally, socially and spiritually. From a physical perspective, treatment can typically disrupt a patient’s quality of life due to short- and long-term side effects, including fatigue, pain, sleep disturbances, and functionality. Emotional and psychological well-being can be affected by fear of recurrence, anxiety, depression, concentration and memory problems. Social well-being can be compromised due to impacts on relationships with others and issues of intimacy and sexuality. Spirituality can be affected by the enhancement of hope and resilience – or their impairment – due to despair.
Other challenges faced by survivors include a slightly increased risk of second cancers, the importance of ongoing monitoring for the initial diagnosis of cancer, and the possible presence of financial hardship following the treatment journey, even when medical insurance is present, due to loss of work. opportunity and other associated costs.
Cancer survivors have the opportunity to improve their quality of life and possibly reduce the risk of recurrence by adopting healthy behaviors such as:
Hartford HealthCare providers monitor patients for late effects of treatment and suggest strategies to help deal with a wide range of these survival issues. Additionally, specific resources are available to help patients overcome these barriers. For example, a survivorship APRN helps patients by presenting a survivorship care plan designed to present a personalized list of potential problems for patients who want them. Psychologists and social workers offer counseling to help patients cope with the emotional impact of the experience.
Other resources available include dietary counseling, smoking cessation, and integrative medicine strategies such as massage therapy, yoga, acupuncture, and Reiki, all designed to help cope with some of the physical and emotional effects. of therapy. Your oncology team can help make referrals for these services if needed.
Articles in our monthly newsletter will provide more detailed information as we delve into survivorship issues related to each type of cancer diagnosis and intervention. At Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, we are committed to your long-term well-being.