Now what? Aiding patients in planning for cancer survival

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planning survival
planning survival

Many patients with cancer are successfully reaching the end of treatment and surviving their cancer. However, treatment effects and concerns about recurrence affect these patients going forward. The number of cancer survivors is increasing as the population ages, cancer incidence rises in the aging population, and long-term survival rates continue to improve.


Approximately 13.7 million people in the United States have had cancer, as of January 1, 2012, according to recent estimates.1 This number is about a 3.4-fold increase compared with 1975, and over the next decade, the number of cancer survivors is expected to total 18 million. This is an increase of 31%, or more than 4 million additional cancer survivors in the next 10 years.

The largest group of survivors, both today and in the future, is those who are 5 years or more past their cancer diagnosis.1 Among cancer survivors, 22% are those who had breast cancer, and 20% are men who had prostate cancer. Although lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both sexes, it is only weakly represented among survivors, only 3% of cancer survivors had lung cancer. Women are disproportionately represented among survivors who are 10 or more years postdiagnosis. This is because a large proportion of women have had breast cancer, and 90% will survive 5 years or more. In addition, women have a longer life expectancy than men.


Cancer survivorship has become a focus of research, spurred on by a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2005.2-8 LIVESTRONG has supported survivorship research and established centers of excellence, and the National Cancer Institute has an Office of Cancer Survivorship. Among institutions focused on survivorship, the George Washington Cancer Institute (GWCI) in Washington, DC, is the home of the Center for the Advancement of Cancer Survivorship, Navigation and Policy and also a collaborative partner with the American Cancer Society on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded National Cancer Survivorship Resource Center. The GWCI offers resources for survivorship and navigation, health policy initiatives, and education and training.

After patients complete the primary phase of their treatment, they should receive both a treatment summary and a survivorship care plan.8 In an interview, Carrie Stricker, PhD, RN, AOCN, who was director of the Living Well After Cancer Program, a LIVESTRONG Cancer Survivorship Center at Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said that this information should be given to patients no later than the end of treatment. She explained, “Patients really want this information earlier on.” 

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