Today marks a special day dedicated to honoring and celebrating those who have survived cancer. National Cancer Survivors Day®, recognized on the first Sunday of June each year, serves not only to applaud cancer survivors but also to raise awareness of the ongoing challenges these individuals may face.
The nonprofit organization National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation (NCSDF) promotes this annual recognition of cancer survivors. NCSDF supports hospitals, advocacy groups, and cancer organizations to educate community stakeholders about the challenges cancer survivors face. It is a great time to remind everyone that the effects of cancer don’t always end when treatment does, even when a cancer survivor achieves remission or a cure!
First things first- who exactly is a cancer survivor? Anyone living with a history of cancer is considered a cancer survivor! In fact, as soon as an individual is diagnosed with cancer, he or she becomes a cancer survivor and remains a cancer survivor throughout his or her lifetime. Therefore, cancer survivors exist of all ages, at all different steps on the cancer treatment journey, and in various stages of health, including individuals with aggressive disease and limited treatment options and those without evidence of disease.
The general public may be surprised to learn about the complications and ongoing challenges cancer survivors face and that these hardships sometimes last for the rest of the survivor's life. While it’s probably easy to understand that battling a malignant disease and receiving treatment can be difficult, cancer survivors regularly deal with some less-publicized hardships.
As noted by the NCSDF, some cancer survivors have limited access to specialists who can provide the most novel, life-saving therapies. Those with easier access may still experience exorbitant costs to obtain such therapies and difficulty navigating health insurance policies. To further exasperate financial hardships, some cancer survivors requiring lengthy treatment regimens may be unable to keep their job or face difficulty finding steady work.
Medical and health-related hardships also arise for many cancer survivors. Those with a history of cancer often have an increased risk of developing additional cancers or other co-morbidities. The fear associated with the possibility of recurrence or metastatic spread of cancer can significantly dampen the quality of life for cancer survivors.
Cancer survivors make up over 5% of the population in the United States- this translates to over 18 million individuals living with a history of cancer. Experts estimate these numbers to rise significantly over the next several decades. Among these cancer survivors, over 600,000 survived the most common metastatic diseases (breast, prostate, lung, colorectal, or bladder cancer or metastatic melanoma).
Now for some good news! Due to medical advances, including improved screening, increased rates of early diagnosis, and the development of more efficacious treatments, cancer survivors continue to live longer and healthier lives. As of January 2022, 69% of US cancer survivors have lived at least five years, 47% have lived at least ten years, and 18% have lived at least 20 years. By 2032, the US will have an estimated 22.5 million cancer survivors; by 2040, this number will rise to 26 million.
Today, I’d like to personally recognize all readers living life to the fullest as cancer survivors! I’d also encourage everyone reading this to make an extra effort to reach out to the cancer survivors in your life.