Cancer Survivors: Population Explosion Coming


You think we’ve made a lot of noise during this Colorectal Cancer Awareness month?

We’re only going to get louder. On Monday morning, Fight Colorectal Cancer survivors and advocates will ring the opening bell on NASDAQ—representing 1.2 million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S. who are only going to get louder as our numbers grow.

Good news or bad news? Both, really. As Boomers age, more Americans will get cancer—and with better treatment and earlier diagnosis, there will be more cancer survivors.

In just 10 years, the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. will increase by nearly a third—to almost 18 million survivors of all types of cancer in 2022. That population explosion and other eye-opening facts are reported in “Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & figures 2012-2013,” a 35-page report just released by the American Cancer Society.

Some facts about colorectal cancer:

  • Colorectal cancer is the second most common in the nation’s current 13.7 million cancer survivors. (Among men, 43% are prostate cancer survivors, with colorectal cancer second at 9%. Among women, 41% are breast cancer survivors, with colorectal and uterine cancer second at 8% each.)
  • Almost half (45%) of all cancer survivors are 70-plus years old. For colorectal cancer, the median age for diagnosis is 70.

Survivor care needs to catch up

Survivors cover a wide spectrum—from those who’ll never have another trace of the cancer to those who live with continuous therapy to keep the cancer controlled.

Yet “many survivors, even among those who are cancer free, must cope with the long-term effects of treatment….As more people survive cancer, it is vital that healthcare providers are aware of the special needs of cancer patients and caregivers,” the study’s senior author Elizabeth R. Ward, Ph.D., told Reuters Health News Service .

But a 2012 study presented at last summer’s (June 2012) ASCO annual meeting found that only 22% of 1000 primary care providers correctly identified peripheral neuropathy—which can persist for months, years, or permanently–as a late effect of the commonly used chemotherapy Eloxitan (oxaliplatin).

“Most long-term survivors of colorectal cancer report a very good quality of life,” the American Cancer Society report noted,  but some survivors will have bowel problems, and as many as 40% of those treated for local or locally advanced colorectal cancer (which has invaded nearby organs) will have a recurrence.

Delayed diagnosis: so much more to do

Of the 10 most common cancers, only lung and non-Hodgkin lymphoma had a higher percentage of new cancer cases diagnosed at the regional or metastasized stages, according to the new report.

During the 2001-2007 time period, only 39% of colorectal cancers were diagnosed when it was still localized, when the 5-year survival rate is 90%. A full 20% (and 24% among African Americans) were diagnosed when the disease had already spread (metastasized), when the average 5-year survival rate hovers at 12%.

Take-away for colorectal cancer survivors

  • Whether you’re discharged as “free of cancer” or still under active treatment, be sure your oncologist sends complete information to your primary care provider.
  • Develop and understand your own “survivorship plan.” (Read here for specifics.)
  • Help us improve those statistics–real people–diagnosed late instead of early when this cancer is curable: All year long, educate your family, friends, neighbors, political representatives about the need to get screened for colorectal cancer.

Sources: Cancer Treatment & Survivorship Facts & figures 2012-2013,” American Cancer Society, March 2013;  “Number of US Cancer Survivors to Increase by a Third by 2022,” March 20 2013 Reuters, and “Better Information Needed for Primary Care Providers Who Treat Cancer Survivors,” June 15 2012 ASCO Post.

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