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Basic Information About Cancer Survivorship

Who Are Cancer Survivors?

Photo of an African American woman taking care of her mother

The term cancer survivor refers to a person who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis throughout his or her life. The impact of cancer on family members, friends, and caregivers of survivors is also acknowledged as part of survivorship.

How Many People Are Cancer Survivors?

Nearly 14 million Americans with a previous cancer diagnosis are living in the United States. People are living longer after a cancer diagnosis because of advances in early detection and treatment. About two out of every three people diagnosed with cancer are expected to live at least five years after diagnosis, but disparities in health care impact survival. Low-income men and women and members of minority groups who have little or no health insurance coverage are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at later stages, when survival times are shorter.

Cancer survivors often face physical, emotional, psychosocial, spiritual, and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Public health professionals identify and address survivorship and quality of life issues such as the coordination of care, patient-provider communication, health promotion, support services, and fertility preservation through research and collaboration with public, non-profit, and private organizations. Public health initiatives created to understand and prevent secondary disease, recurrence, and long-term effects of treatment are essential.

Promoting Health After a Cancer Diagnosis

Cancer survivors are at greater risk for recurrence and for developing second cancers due to the effects of treatment, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, underlying genetics, or risk factors that contributed to the first cancer. The following factors can help maintain health and improve survival and quality of life after a cancer diagnosis—

  • Quitting Tobacco Use
    • Smoking is a preventable risk factor for cancer recurrence and additional cancers.
  • Being Active and Maintaining a Healthy Weight
    • ObesityObesity may be related to poorer survival after breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
    • Regular physical activityphysical activity (at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week for adults) may improve quality of life after a cancer diagnosis.
  • Discussing Follow-up Care with a Health Care Provider
    Important topics to discuss—
    • A personalized survivorship care plan that includes a schedule of recommended follow-up visits, screenings, and medical tests and specifies which providers will be responsible for care.
    • Possible delayed effects of treatment.
    • The importance of seeking timely care in response to certain signs or symptoms.
    • Emotional wellness after cancer and identifying available resources for additional support, if necessary.
    • Lifestyle changes recommended for improving health and well-being after cancer.
    • Developing an effective support system that meets survivors' medical and emotional needs.
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