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As More Americans Live Through Cancer, Survivors' Ranks Grow

A cancer diagnosis is no longer a death sentence for many people who get one.

The ranks of American cancer survivors are growing, and will increase from 13.7 million in January 2012 to nearly 18 million in January 2022, according to a report from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.

Though an aging and growing population helps explain why more people are surviving cancer, the study says that improvements in treatment and more people getting screened also play a part. (Not all screening is necessarily a good idea for everyone, though, as we've reported.)

The study was published this week in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Elizabeth Ward, a national vice president at the American Cancer Society, said that the results are an estimation based on current trends in cancer survival. "But it's conceivable that if there is a major breakthrough in survival rate for one of these cancers, that in fact the picture in 2022 will look different," she tells Shots.

The study reports that in 2012, male survivors were most likely to have had prostate cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and melanoma; most common among female survivors were breast, uterine, and colon and rectal cancers. The American Cancer Society predicts that nearly all of those will be the most commons cancers of survivors in 2022, too.

"The reasons that some cancers are more common in survivors than they are in newly diagnosed patients is that the common cancers among survivors are typically ones that are fairly common in the population of new diagnosis," Ward said, "but they are also cancers that have a fairly high survival rate."

Ward said that although the study provides important data for the future of surviving cancer, there are still issues that are difficult to represent in charts and percentages. Many survivors struggle to live a normal life after treatment, she said.

"There needs to be more work on understanding more fully both the physical and emotional and social needs of cancer survivors," Ward said, "and physical rehabilitation—exercise interventions, to help regain ability to live daily life after treatment being immobile for treatment for a long period of time—regaining previous level of physical activity."

Cancer survivors must also be vigilant in the continuation of cancer screenings and preventative health, Ward said. "[This includes] dietary and physical activity recommendations and avoiding the use of tobacco because in some cases, it actually seems to have an influence on cancer prognosis, but it's also very helpful in avoiding other cancers and chronic diseases throughout life," she says.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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