Cancer Survivorship: A Raging Epidemic?

According to a report issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the number of cancer survivors in the United States increased to 11.7 million in 2007….nearly a 20 percent rise in the number of survivors living in 2001.

Why the increase? Primarily, we can look to the early detection of cancers and improved diagnostic methods. And, the CDC report predicts the number of cancer survivors will continue to increase as time wears on. Is that a good thing? Of course, it is! But, when nearly four percent of the U.S. population are cancer survivors, there is a higher need for focus among health care providers and policy makers on issues that are unique to cancer survivors.

Hot topics for cancer survivors: access to health insurance…high quality health care beyond cancer treatment centers…and the big one: the acknowledgment that oncologists will likely not address survivors’ immediate or late-stage medical needs and therefore, the medical community must skillfully address them.

For decades now, our culture has concentrated on research for higher prevention, better treatments, and cures or near-cures for cancer. I know. I’ve raised many a dollar for cancer research. And, research absolutely must go on! I’m waving my hand now for cancer survivors and their particular needs. Ignorance about cancer survivorship and cancer rehabilitation is shamefully high in our population, even among the well-educated.

A national physician-leader in cancer survivorship recently told me, “Today’s awareness that cancer survivors have specialized medical needs is not unlike early AIDS awareness and its crawl to the fronts of our minds in the 1980’s. It doesn’t take on the appearance of a raging epidemic…but, it is. We have a lot of public education to do while we do our best to provide survivors with the care and follow-up they need to keep on living.”

Well, there’s hope then! Look what we’ve done in 30 years to advance a cure for AIDS and improve the long-term effects of HIV/AIDS. We had better get started!

Download the CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”

Category: Cancer

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