US Cancer Survivor Tally to Balloon, Even as Incidence Is Flat

Baby Boomers Are Aging

Nick Mulcahy

June 11, 2019

The total number of cancer survivors in the United States is projected to expand from the current 16.9 million Americans to more than 22.1 million by 2030, according to new research.

The growth is occurring even though incidence rates are stable in women and declining in men.

That means the increase is based on the growth and aging of the population alone, say the researchers, led by Kim D. Miller, MPH, senior associate scientist, Surveillance Research, American Cancer Society (ACS), Atlanta, Georgia.

The new findings come from a triennial ACS report, "Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Statistics," published online today in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

"As baby boomers continue to get older and our population overall becomes older, the proportion of survivors who are over the age of 65 will account for more and more of the total cancer survivor population," Miller told Medscape Medical News in an email.

"Some researchers have dubbed this the 'silver tsunami,' " she added.

Nearly two thirds (64%) of cancer survivors are currently aged 65 years or older, according to the new report.

Not everyone involved in the growth likes being called 'survivor,' Miller cautioned.

"The term 'survivor' means something different to everyone, and not everyone with a history of cancer may identify with that idea," she said.

"I have a good friend who has lived with cancer intermittently throughout his entire life, who chooses not to call himself a survivor because he does not feel that the term describes his experience," Miller observed. 

People living with metastatic cancer also frequently dismiss the term survivor, because of the increased likelihood they will actually die of the disease.

The authors' estimate of the number of cancer survivors in 2030 is based on population projections from the US Census Bureau and use current incidence, mortality, and survival rates. However, as noted in the new report, changes in cancer occurrence and survival because of advances in treatment and detection could further impact cancer prevalence.

Robin Yabroff, PhD, senior scientific director, Health Services Research, and a coauthor of the report, said that the prevalence projections are a challenge to US healthcare.

"Although there are growing numbers of tools that can assist patients, caregivers, and clinicians in navigating the various phases of cancer survivorship, further evidence-based resources are needed to optimize care," she said in a press statement.

The study authors also provide a list of trouble spots along the path to 2030.

They summarize the "challenges" ahead: "These include a fractured health care system; poor integration of survivorship care between the oncology and primary care settings; clinician workforce shortages and knowledge gaps about the needs of cancer survivors; lack of strong evidence-based guidelines for posttreatment care; and financial and other barriers to quality care, particularly among the medically underserved."

CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Published online June 11, 2019. Full text

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