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Report: Estimated 18 Million Cancer Survivors by 2022, but at What Cost?

Update Date: Mar 28, 2013 01:42 PM EDT

Cancer is the number two cause of death in the United States after heart disease. Still, the prognosis for many cancers has greatly improved in recent years. By the year 2022, the American Association for Cancer Research estimates that there will be 18 million cancer survivors living in the United States. However, those increased survival rates come with a cost.

"The increase in the number of survivors will be due primarily to an aging of the population. By 2020, we expect that two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be age 65 or older," Julia Rowland, the director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, said to NBC News.

According to NCI, 13.7 million people in the United States have survived cancer, with that number expected to swell by 37 percent in just a decade. Two thirds have survived for five years after their diagnosis, which makes them "cured". In addition, 40 percent have survived for 10 years, while 15 percent have made it to the 20-year mark.

Some cancers, in particular, are easier to survive than others. Patients with prostate cancer have a nearly 100 percent chance of surviving for five years, while patients with breast cancer have an 89 percent chance. According to Healthland, women with breast cancer will make up 22 percent of cancer survivors in the future, while prostate cancer survivors will make up 20 percent of the tally. But other cancers still have grim prognoses; lung cancer survivors will make up an estimated three percent, as survivors of lung cancer - the second deadliest cancer in the United States - have only a 15 percent chance of being cured of their cancer. That is because symptoms of lung cancer is often subtle, so it is often difficult to spot until it has spread.

The increased survival rates will have a price though. The risk for many cancers increase with age, and treatments like radiation and chemotherapy may ensure that survivors never have 100 percent of their health back. The poor health also increase the risk that survivors will suffer from other cancers. Cancer survivors typically have medical bills that are double that of their counterparts.

There are ways to improve the cost though. The report suggests the increased use of palliative care, like massage, which has been linked to longer lives and lower healthcare  costs for cancer patients; improved methods for long-term care; and a better system for collecting data on cancer patients in order to see which strategies work.

The report was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

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