The Number of Aging Cancer Survivors Rising Quickly

During the next decade, the amount of cancer survivors living beyond the age of 65 is expected to increase by almost fifty percent. Data shows that in 2008 there were approximately 12 million cancer survivors, almost four times the 1971 number.

Julia Rowland, Ph.D., director of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) claims that there is an expected increase in the number of older adults who are diagnosed with or carry a history of cancer. She states that the disease is age-related, so this is just another effect of the baby boom generation and we need to prepare for this demographic change.

Rowland has produced a report that is part of a story on cancer survivors in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Rowland and other researchers examined data from the NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. Their report on cancer survivor statistics will become an annual review.

The cancer survivor demographics include female breast cancer (22 percent), prostate cancer (20 percent) and colorectal cancer (9 percent) as the most common forms of the disease. It is believed that these forms are the most easily detected and treated. This is compared with lung cancer; as one of the most common forms it only accounts for 3 percent of the survivor population. This is because it is more complicated to detect and treat due to the lungs being a more vital organ than the prostate or breasts.

Rowland specified that the health care community should begin preparations in anticipation of the new wave of cancer survivors who will come to the forefront of a changing healthcare landscape. The irony of this news is the dilemma of a declining rate of oncology and geriatric specialists just as the need for them is rising.

In 2008, 60 percent of the cancer survivors were at least aged 65. The National Cancer Institute expects this number will rise to 63 percent by the year 2020. Rowland concludes, “We may be fortunate in that the aging population is healthier than in previous generations, and new technologies could allow for better communication and follow-up.”


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