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Are we prepared for 18 million cancer survivors?
June 14th, 2012
12:02 PM ET

Are we prepared for 18 million cancer survivors?

An estimated 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on January 1, 2012, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS) in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute. Researchers expect the number of cancer survivors to rise to 18 million by 2022.

The report, published Thursday, says currently one in three women and one in two men in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetime.

“Increases in the number of individuals diagnosed with cancer each year, due in large part to aging and growth of the population, as well as improving survival rates, have led to an ever-increasing number of cancer survivors,"  the authors of the report write.

For example, the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer improved from 75.1% in 1977 to 90% in 2007.  And 5-year survival rates for childhood cancers are at 82.5%, an increase of more than 24% since the mid-1970s.  Nearly half of all cancer survivors are 70 years or older.

Unfortunately, doctors may not be prepared to deal with the problems cancer survivors face.

"More can certainly be done [in terms] of what the needs are and how they can best be met," study author and ACS epidemiologist Carol DeSantis said. "ACS assesses the gaps in resources and finds ways to fulfill those needs."

Long-term effects from the treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, and from the cancer itself can be debilitating.  For example, cancer survivors like Robin Roberts, can face blood disorders years after they go into remission.  Others deal with osteoporosis from the damage chemotherapy inflicts on a body's bone marrow.

Treatment can also cause cardiovascular problems, cognitive defects and muscle pain.

Just as pressing may be the psychological effects for patients who fear the recurrence of their cancer, or who realize the higher risk of being diagnosed with a secondary cancer.

“Survivors are relieved to have completed treatment, but may need to make physical, emotional, social, and spiritual adjustments to find a 'new normal,'" the authors write.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.