Nearly 12 million people in the United States are cancer survivors, almost four times as many as 40 years ago, reflecting big strides in cancer detection and treatment and the effect of an aging U.S. population, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.
But many of the survivors face a lifetime of side effects caused by their treatments, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.
The researchers found there were 11.7 million cancer survivors in 2007, up from 9.8 million in 2001 and 3 million in 1971.
“It’s good news that so many are surviving cancer and leading long, productive, and healthy lives,” CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said in a statement.
“Preventing cancer and detecting it early remain critically important as some cancers can be prevented or detected early enough to be effectively treated.”
CDC researchers estimate that of the 11.7 million cancer survivors who were still alive on January 1, 2007, 7 million were age 65 or older.
Nearly 13 percent of the 307 million people living in the United States in 2009 were over age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Elderly people are more susceptible to cancer.
Of the total, slightly more than half of the cancer survivors — 54 percent — are women. Breast cancer survivors make up the biggest group, making up 22 percent of all cancer survivors, followed by prostate cancer survivors at 19 percent and colorectal cancer survivors at 10 percent.
The estimates exclude skin cancers other than melanoma because they are rarely fatal.
Among all survivors, 4.7 million were diagnosed with cancer 10 or more years earlier, according to the report.
But surviving cancer is only the first step, and doctors and public health experts need to focus on the special needs of cancer survivors, health experts said.
Several studies suggest cancer survivors have higher risks of diabetes, heart and kidney disease.
“Unfortunately for many cancer survivors and those around them, the effect of cancer does not end with the last treatment,” said Julia Rowland, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
“Research has allowed us to scratch the surface of understanding the unique risks, issues, and concerns of this population,” Rowland said.
The American Cancer Society estimates there were 1.5 million new cancer cases in the United States in 2010 and 569,490 deaths.
The full report can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/