Over 14 Million Cancer Survivors Face Broad Challenges

About 14.5 million men, women, and children are living after being diagnosed with cancer in the United States. The number of cancer survivors — people who live after a cancer diagnosis — is expected to grow substantially over the next few decades as the U.S. population ages and as early detection methods and treatments continue to improve. Cancer survivors often face physical, emotional, social, and financial challenges as a result of their diagnosis and treatment.


The CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control sponsored a special supplement in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine entitled, Addressing Cancer Survivorship Through Public Health Research, Surveillance, and Programs. The public health community has an essential role in addressing cancer survivors’ needs. Public health interventions can reduce cancer recurrence, second cancers, and treatment side effects or consequences, improving survivors’ quality of life.


“By 2025, there will be more than 24 million people living after a cancer diagnosis,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “In addition to better prevention and treatment of cancer, we must plan for the wide variety of issues that people may face after cancer, including physical, financial, and psychological hardships.”


“When we think about cancer treatments, we tend to think of the physical toll they take on patients who are in active treatment. But these articles highlight challenges that can affect survivors for the rest of their lives,” said Lisa Richardson M.D., M.P.H., director, CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.


Articles in the CDC-sponsored supplement address a range of problems cancers survivors face. For example, cancer survivors face problems related to access to health care; breast cancer survivors face problems with thinking, memory, and concentration; and colorectal cancer survivors need support to limit their alcohol intake and increase their physical activity.


Access to health care is an important issue for cancer survivors. Not all cancer survivors have equal access to medical care. Public health organizations can help provide equal access to important services among all survivors. Cancer survivors may face higher out-of-pocket medical costs than people who have never been diagnosed with cancer. These extra costs can prevent or delay access to important medical care, including cancer screening tests.


Breast cancer survivors need greater support for issues with memory, thinking, and attention. Sixty percent of breast cancer survivors surveyed reported having problems with thinking, memory, and concentration after receiving chemotherapy and/or hormone treatment for breast cancer. Of those women, 37 percent said they discussed the problems with their health care provider and 15 percent reported receiving medication, psychotherapy, or other interventions to treat their symptoms.


Colorectal cancer survivors need to be advised to limit alcohol use. Most colorectal cancer survivors follow dietary recommendations to choose low-fat foods, but few have been told to limit alcohol intake. Most feel supported by their families to eat fruits and vegetables, but half do not feel supported to limit their alcohol intake.


Physical activity may improve colorectal cancer survivors’ quality of life. Colorectal cancer survivors who exercise may have better physical health and overall quality of life. Room for greatest improvement was in mental health, which may indicate a greater need to screen for emotional and psychological distress routinely.


Articles in the CDC-sponsored supplement address provide specific examples of effective public health interventions to support cancer survivors. For example, one article describes how CDC-supported comprehensive cancer control programs in New Mexico, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and Fond Du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa use evidence-based activities to support target populations of cancer survivors. Another article explains that to address a lack of information tailored for young African-American breast cancer survivors, public health researchers developed the “Young Sisters Initiative: A Guide to a Better You!” program. This online resource provides social, emotional, and reproductive health information to women navigating breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care.


The journal supplement includes twelve articles on research, surveillance, education campaigns, and partnerships that improve the experiences of survivors, their families, friends, and caregivers. The supplement reviews the CDC’s ongoing work in cancer survivorship, which includes surveillance to determine burden, research to determine the health and economic impact of cancer on survivors, and working with state and territorial partners to support incorporating survivorship activities into their comprehensive cancer control efforts.


See the CDC Announcement


See the CDC’s Summary of the Cancer Survivorship Supplement


See also: Medical Law Perspectives, May 2015 Report: Chemotherapy: Risks and Liabilities When the Treatment Is Toxic


See also: Medical Law Perspectives, November 2014 Report: More Than Skin Deep: Skin Cancer Misdiagnosis and Other Liability Issues


See also: Medical Law Perspectives, October 2012 Report: Mistakes in Diagnosing Cancer: Liability Concerns for Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose, and Delayed Diagnosis