A new report has predicted that there will be 22.1 million people with a personal history of cancer by 2030 in the U.S.
The report, produced every three years as a joint venture between the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute states that the numbers will soar from 16.9 million Americans with a history of cancer as of the 1st of January this year to 22.1 million just over a decade from now.
Although cancer incidence rates are stable in women, and slightly declining in men, new advances in treatments such as targeted therapies and better early screening and diagnostic techniques means more people are surviving their disease, with 50% of people now expected to survive ten years or more after diagnosis. The report cites two thirds of cancer survivors are over 65 and on the other end of the age spectrum, over 110,000 cancer survivors are aged 19 or under.
Although a growing number of cancer survivors is undoubtedly good news, it is becoming increasingly accepted that those who have experienced cancer can experience a wide range of side-effects, both physical and mental, resulting from their treatments and experiences as well as financial toxicity and social issues.
“People with a history of cancer have unique medical, psychosocial, and economic needs that require proactive assessment and management by health care providers,” said Robin Yabroff, Ph.D., senior scientific director of Health Services Research and co-author of the report.
It is universally accepted that the needs of cancer survivors are not currently being met. For a long time, the sole focus of cancer research as a field was to successfully treat as many people as possible, with only minimal regard as to what happened to them in the long-term. This, thankfully is slowly changing and more research projects identifying the needs of cancer survivors and intervening to help them, are coming to fruition, but much more is needed.
“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,” said Yabroff.
Another big question is how the U.S. healthcare system is going to manage to look after this vast number of cancer survivors. Many survivors continue to see their oncologists for long-term side effects that are not related to cancer recurrence or secondary cancers as there is simply no better person to go to. This means that oncology departments, too, are becoming overwhelmed as they try to manage both new patients and those who have finished treatment.
“The system for caring for cancer survivors in the U.S. we have currently is not sustainable. We have more survivors and they are living longer, which is, of course, wonderful, but healthcare systems are not currently set up to care for a large and increasing number of survivors,” said Dr Corrine Leach, PhD, Strategic Director of Cancer and Aging Research at the American Cancer Society, quoted last year in this Forbes Health article.
In an ideal world, the healthcare system and provisions for cancer survivors will need a radical overhaul to meet the needs of this gigantic and ever-growing population, but remains to be seen whether this can and will be achieved.