Rapid growth predicted in number of U.S. cancer survivors age 65 and older

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  • Posted: October 6, 2011
NCI Press Office


The United States can expect a sizable increase in the number of older citizens who survive cancer, according to findings published online Oct. 6, 2011, in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The study, by researchers at NCI, predicted a 42 percent increase, from about 8 million to more than 11 million cancer survivors 65 years of age and older between 2010 and 2020. The researchers attribute this significant rise in the older adult survivor population, which includes newly diagnosed cancer patients as well as long term survivors, mainly to the aging of the U.S. population. Treating this demographic of patients may present special concerns and challenges to health care providers, caution the researchers. 

In this study, Julia Rowland, Ph.D., director of NCI’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, and her colleagues, analyzed data from the NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. They found that in 1971, the year the National Cancer Act was signed, the entire survivor population (all survivors, not just those 65 and older) was approximately three million, and increased to nearly 12 million in 2008, the last year data are available. In looking at cancer cases from 2008, 60 percent of the cancer survivors were at least 65 years old and this number is expected to increase to 63 percent by 2020. The authors noted that age is the single most important risk factor for developing cancer and with most cancers, more than half of cases occur in individuals who are 65 years of age or older at the time of diagnosis. Exceptions to this pattern are breast cancer and ovarian cancer, in which the majority of cases occur in individuals under the age of 65 years. Today, the most common diagnosis among cancer survivors includes female breast cancer (22 percent), prostate cancer (20 percent), and colorectal cancer (9 percent); lung cancer survivors represent only 3 percent of all survivors.