More than a third of the 12.6 million cancer survivors in the United States have physical or mental health-related problems that jeopardize their overall health. Among cancer survivors, 25% report poor physical health and 10% report poor mental health. These rates are higher than the 10% and 6%, respectively, reported by adults without cancer.

Researchers analyzed data from a 2010 nationwide health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey included data specific to cancer survivors that was collected by the CDC and National Cancer Institute. The researchers identified 1,822 cancer survivors and compared them with 24,804 adults who had no history of cancer.

The study found that those who had survived breast cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma fared best, as their health-related quality of life (QOL) levels were equivalent to or better than those of adults with no cancer history.

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Unfortunately, 40% of survivors of cervical, blood, and colorectal cancers, along with those who survived cancers with a 5-year survival rate below 25% (including liver, lung, and pancreatic cancers), were more likely to report physical problems that negatively impacted their quality of life. Also, survivors of cancers with low 5-year survival rates were more likely to have mental health issues that affected their daily lives.

Based on their data, the researchers estimated that poor physical health-related quality of life affects about 3.3 million cancer survivors, and poor mental health-related quality of life affects almost 1.4 million survivors.

“Recently, there has been a strong push for doctors to do a better job of communicating with cancer patients about what to expect as they finish treatment and transition to the survivor period,” said the lead author, Kathryn Weaver, PhD, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Identifying what symptoms or problems cancer patients are facing after treatment—fatigue, pain, depression, sleep, and cognition problems—and connecting them with the right resources or treatments is key to improving their long-term health.”

This study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (2012; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-12-0740).