Support for Life: Report reveals record number of cancer survivors in U.S., highlighting need for new, longer-term support services

Monday, March 14, 2011

“It’s really quite staggering, and it’s quite wonderful.”

That was the reaction of Dr. Stephen Edge, Alfiero Foundation Endowed Chair in Breast Oncology and Medical Director of the Breast Center at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), when asked to comment for this article on a report saying the number of U.S. adults who have survived cancer grew nearly fourfold between 1971 and 2007.

The new data on cancer survivorship, reported March 10, 2011, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), reveals that nearly 4% of Americans age 20 and over have survived a cancer diagnosis — up from 3 million, or 1.5% of the population, in 1971 to 11.7 million in 2007.

And those numbers are continuing to rise. “As earlier diagnosis and treatment advances help more people survive cancer — a trend this report demonstrates dramatically — we’re going to see the numbers of cancer survivors climb higher and higher,” said Roswell Park President and CEO Donald Trump. “That means we have to continue to follow these survivors as they move on with their lives, staying in touch so we can document and understand how their diagnosis and treatment may continue to affect them.”

According to the CDC/NCI report, breast cancer survivors make up the largest group of cancer survivors (22%), followed by survivors of prostate cancer (19%) and colorectal cancer (10%).

The findings also indicate that:

  • Just under 60% of those living with cancer in 2007 were 65 years or older
  • Most cancer survivors, 54%, are women
  • 40% of cancer survivors had been diagnosed a decade or more earlier

Already a pioneer in care and research for survivors of pediatric cancers, RPCI has launched a new initiative for adult survivors — Support for Life: The Cancer Survivors Program at Roswell Park. The program, which is now available for patients in the Prostate Cancer Clinic at RPCI, will expand in phases with the goal of reaching all patients seen at RPCI. Support for Life seeks to optimize a cancer survivor’s quality of life by enhancing communication with their primary-care physicians and educating survivors and their loved ones about the late effects that cancer therapy may have.

There are diverse challenges that may arise following treatment for cancer.

“Depending on the type of cancer and treatment, some patients will experience no side effects, while others have a few. These post-treatment effects can vary from hair loss and difficulty sleeping to coping with loss of a body part or managing sexual side effects,” notes Marcia Gruber, RN, MSN, MS, MS, co-chair of the Institute’s Support for Life steering committee. “It’s very important to understand the late and long-term needs of those patients who come through our doors, and those of their family members and loved ones.”

RPCI psychologists, funded by a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, will soon develop survivorship plans for all breast-cancer patients ending active treatment. Clinical staff at Roswell Park have been looking into the long-term effects of pediatric cancer diagnosis and treatment since 1986, when the Institute launched an ongoing study.

“Childhood cancer survivors tend to have poor recall of their previous treatments and, therefore, the potential impact on their long-term health,” notes Dr. Denise Rokitka, MD, MPH, director of the RPCI’s long-term pediatric follow-up clinic and principal investigator of one of the oldest long-term pediatric survivorship studies in existence.“We encourage patients to be champions of their own health, and we’re looking into factors such as psychological functioning in an effort to predict which young patients are most likely to encounter problems down the line related to earlier cancer treatment.”

RPCI, with support from The Steadfast Foundation, also recently launched an Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer program to enhance treatment and services for young adults with cancer, who face issues that are often unique to their age demographic.

“For cancer survivors of all ages, we’re working hard to make sure we provide outstanding, full-spectrum care,” notes Gruber. “The patients and families we care for have given us valuable input about the issues they’ve faced two, five or 10 years after their cancer treatment. We’re working diligently to understand those issues so we can help our patients and others work through those late and long-term side effects with minimum impact on their daily lives.”

For more information about services and resources for cancer survivors, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email

The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. RPCI, founded in 1898, was one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit RPCI’s website at, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email

Media Contact: 

Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager