Every other year, the American Society collaborates with the National Cancer Institute to estimate the total number of current and future cancer survivors in the United States. In their latest report, the researchers found there has been an increasing number of cancer survivors due to both scientific advancements and growth of the population.

They estimated that, as of Jan. 1, 2016, there are more than 15.5 million Americans with a history of cancer. In 2026, this number will reach more than 20 million, they said.

The report is intended to help providers better serve this population. Some of these patients still cope with the long-term physical effects of treatment, in addition to psychological and economic aftershocks. The researchers use the term “prevalent cancer” to define the number of previously diagnosed cancers among people who are alive. This differs from incident cancers, which is the number of newly diagnosed cancers. For example, lung cancer is the second most common incident cancer in men, though it ranks eighth in prevalence due to poor survival rates.

Also, “cancer survivor” describes any person who has been diagnosed with cancer. The term includes patients currently undergoing treatment as well as those who are 30 years cancer-free.

Among men, the three most prevalent cancers in 2016 are prostate (3,306,760), colorectal (724,690), and melanoma (614,460). For women, breast (3,560,570), uterine (757,190), and colorectal (727,350) cancers topped the list.

One-third of American survivors were diagnosed less than five years ago while more than half (56 percent) were diagnosed within the past 10 years, the report said. Additionally, slightly more than a fifth (21 percent) of female survivors were diagnosed more than 20 years ago compared to 13 percent of males.

“Although quality of life may decline considerably during active cancer treatment and remain low for a short period thereafter, many are acute and short-lived, and the majority of disease-free cancer survivors report good quality of life one year post-treatment,” wrote the researchers.

The ages of survivors also vary by cancer type. In other words, the majority of prostate cancer survivors (64 percent) are 70 or older, while only one in three (37 percent) melanoma survivors are that age. Overall, under half (47 percent) of survivors are either 70 or older, while 65,190 people are 14 or younger and 47,180 people are between the ages of 15 and 19.

“There is increasing emphasis on improving cancer survivors' overall wellbeing and quality of life through the application of principles of disease self-management and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, such as avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding intense ultraviolet radiation , and being physically active throughout life,” concluded the researchers.

They suggested practical interventions to encourage survivors to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and eat properly. Most importantly, they say cancer survivors should be given support for quitting smoking.

“Younger cancer survivors in particular have been shown to have a higher prevalence of smoking after diagnosis than the general population,” noted the researchers. The report has been released ahead of National Cancer Survivors Day, observed annually on the first Sunday in June.

Source: Miller KD, Siegel RL, Lin CC, et al. Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Statistics, 2016. Can J Clin. 2016.