About Cancer Survivorship
After a cancer diagnosis, a person's priorities regarding relationships, career, or lifestyle may change. Some people with a history of cancer, often called cancer survivors or survivors, say that they appreciate life more and have gained a greater acceptance of self. At the same time, some survivors also become anxious about their health and uncertain of how to cope with life after treatment, especially when regular visits to doctors stop.
Surviving cancer or “survivorship” can be defined in different ways. Two common definitions include:
- Having no disease after the completion of treatment
- The process of living with, through, and beyond cancer
By this definition, cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis. It includes people who continue to have treatment to either reduce risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.
Sometimes, doctors and nurses use terms to describe the specific period a survivor is experiencing. These can include:
- Acute survivorship: describes the time when a person is being diagnosed and/or in treatment for cancer
- Extended survivorship: describes the time immediately after treatment is completed, usually measured in months
- Permanent survivorship: describes a longer period, often meaning that the passage of time since treatment is measured in years
Sometimes, people who have survived cancer consider their close friends and families “co-survivors” because of the experiences they have had in caring for the person with cancer. Others with metastatic cancer don’t feel that the “survivor” label applies to them because they continue to live with cancer every day. No matter how it is defined, survivorship is unique for each person.
The number of people with a history of cancer in the United States has increased dramatically, from 3 million in 1971 to about 13.7 million today. The increase in survival rates is largely thought to be due to the following four developments:
- Improved identification of cancers that can sometimes be found early through screening
- Improvements in treatment
- More effective treatment of side effects, making it possible to give patients the planned doses of cancer drugs
- The development of new treatments