Nearly 14 million cancer survivors in US: 4 ways to prevent cancer

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Nearly 14 million cancer survivors in U.S.
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A new report reveals there are currently 13.7 million cancer survivors living in the United States, and that number is expected to increase to 18 million by the year 2022, which equates to a 31 percent increase in cancer survivors in the next nine years.

The report was released by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal in advance of the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 in Washington, D.C. from April 6-10.

For many, cancer was viewed as a death sentence in the past, but with recent advancements in earlier detection, as well as advanced treatment options, there is more hope for people diagnosed with the disease.

According to Julia Rowland, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, more cancer survivors can be expected as the American population gets older.

“The increase in the number of survivors will be due primarily to an aging of the population. By 2020, we expect that two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be age 65 or older,” Rowland said.

The current report, which provides estimates of future cancer survival trends, was based on an analysis of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program and population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, both government-funded databases.

The report also shows that survival is not uniform across various sub-types of cancer. For example, women with breast cancer currently account for 22 percent of survivors, while men with prostate cancer account for 20 percent. And those with lung cancer, the second most common cancer diagnosed, only account for 3 percent of survivors.

“For patients with prostate cancer, we have a nearly 100 percent five-year survival rate, and breast cancer has made tremendous strides as well, with five-year survival rising from 75 percent in 1975 to almost 89 percent in 2012,” Rowland said. “However, we clearly need to have better diagnostic tools and better treatments for lung cancer.”

Rowland said the rising cancer survivor population will present new challenges for the health care system. For example, patients diagnosed with cancer often have co-morbid conditions that need to be managed – and Rowland estimates that 16 percent of them will have had a previous malignancy.

“How to ensure that these patients lead not only long lives, but healthy and productive lives, will be a vital challenge to all of us,” said Rowland.

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Meanwhile, research continues in the war on cancer, as does the effort to better understand how to care for and manage patients who survive cancer – and with more cancer survivors than ever, it is no longer considered a death sentence so much as a chronic disease.

To paraphrase one expert, the more cancer becomes a chronic disease, the more research we need to optimally manage cancer survivors.

"Cancer is often not the immediately fatal diagnosis it often was in the past," said one expert, Dr. William Oh, chief of the division of hematology/oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

So how can you prevent cancer in the first place? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers four primary ways to reduce your risk of getting cancer as follows:

1. Keeping a Healthy Weight - Research has shown that being overweight or obese substantially raises a person's risk of getting endometrial (uterine), breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher.

2. Avoiding Tobacco

-- Cigarette Smoking – Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. Compared to nonsmokers, men who smoke are about 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer and women who smoke are about 13 times more likely. Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% in women. Smoking also causes cancer of the voicebox (larynx), mouth and throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, and stomach, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.

-- Secondhand Smoke – Adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Concentrations of many cancer-causing and toxic chemicals are higher in secondhand smoke than in the smoke inhaled by smokers.

3. Limiting Alcohol Intake - Studies around the world have shown that drinking alcohol regularly increases the risk of getting mouth, voice box, and throat cancers. Daily consumption of around 50g of alcohol doubles or triples the risk for these cancers, compared with the risk in nondrinkers. A large number of studies provide strong evidence that drinking alcohol is a risk factor for primary liver cancer, and more than 100 studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer with increasing alcohol intake. The link between alcohol consumption and colorectal (colon) cancer has been reported in more than 50 studies.

4. Protecting Your Skin from the Sun – Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important environmental factor involved with developing skin cancer. To help prevent skin cancer while still having fun outdoors, protect yourself by seeking shade, applying sunscreen, and wearing sun-protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses.

SOURCES: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention Journal; American Association for Cancer Research, March 27, 2013;

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