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Nearly 18 million Americans will be cancer survivors in 2022

March 27, 2013|By Karen Kaplan
  • "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts is one of an estimated 13.7 million cancer survivors in the U.S. A new study predicts there will be nearly 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S. in 2022.
"Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts is one of an estimated… (Donna Svennevik / ABC )

Better cancer treatments and an aging population will push the number of cancer survivors in the U.S. to nearly 18 million by 2022, according to a new report from researchers at the National Cancer Institute.

As of January 2012, there were 13.7 million survivors of bladder, breast, colorectal, kidney, lung, prostate, thyroid and other cancers, the report says. Over 10 years, that figure is projected to grow 31% to 17,981,391, the researchers estimate.

Today, the biggest group of cancer survivors is women who had breast cancer (22%), followed by men who had prostate cancer (20%). No. 3 is men and women who had colorectal cancer (8.8%) and No. 4 is melanoma (7.1%). Only 3% of cancer survivors are men and women who had lung cancer, even though it is the second most-common cancer diagnosis for both groups.

The report notes that 64% of survivors have remained alive for at least five years after being diagnosed; 40% have been alive for at least 10 years; and 25% have been alive for at least 15 years. By the year 2022, the proportion of cancer survivors who will have lived at least 15 years after their diagnosis will rise to 28% (amounting to 5 million people).

In part, the increase in cancer survivors is because of better early-detection methods and more effective treatments. But the bigger factor is the overall aging of the population – the older you get, the better your odds of being diagnosed with some type of cancer.

With so many additional cancer survivors expected in the healthcare system, researchers had better get busy figuring out what their needs will be. The study authors note that most of what’s known about cancer survivors is based on studies of women who battled breast cancer, but “for the field of cancer survivorship to move forward, it is critical to gain a better understanding of the needs of survivors with other diagnoses,” they wrote.

In particular, they noted, it would make sense to focus on secondary cancers in these patients as well as the effects of palliative care, which has been shown to improve both quality and quantity of life if started early.

The report was published Wednesday in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, which is published by the American Assn. for Cancer Research. You can read a summary online here.

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