Cancer is frequently viewed as the kiss of death, and it continues to dominate as a leading cause of mortality across the world. Without a definitive cure for most cancers, cancer patients undergo therapy to prevent their cancer from progressing further and may always remain worried about its return.
The most common cancer types among US men include prostate, lung and bronchus, colon and rectum, bladder, and melanoma. The most common cancer types among US women include breast, lung and bronchus, colon and rectum, uterus, and thyroid. These common cancers account for nearly half of new cancers in men and women.
Dr. Donna Spiegelman, Director of Yale’s Center for Methods in Implementation and Prevention Science, her recent Ph.D. student, Dr. En Cheng, and other colleagues from Yale University, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, Harvard University, and Weill Cornell investigated long-term survival after diagnosis from common cancers. Specifically, they examined data from 30 years post-diagnosis in US men and over 35 years post-diagnosis among US women, updating previously published information and extending the follow-up period after diagnosis. The study was published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum on March 8th, 2022.
After analyzing data from the Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2012), Nurses’ Health Study (1976-2012), and Nurses’ Health Study II (1989-2013), the research team compared survival among cancer patients at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 35 years after diagnosis. Specifically, death from all causes, as well as death from cancer at diagnosis, were assessed.
The study found that most lung cancer patients died from their cancer within ten years of their diagnosis, although those surviving beyond that time tended to die from other causes. Although prostate and breast cancer deaths continued to increase throughout the 30+ year follow-up period, men with prostate cancer were more likely to die from other causes after the first five years. Similarly, women with breast cancer were more likely to die from other causes after the first 15 years. Cancer-specific deaths for the other common cancers examined in this study, including colon and rectum, uterine, and bladder, only increased slightly after the 10-year follow-up.
Generally, study participants across all groups had relatively high survival rates from most cancers, aside from lung cancer. “This is good news for patients receiving many cancer diagnoses,” Dr. Donna Spiegelman stated, “as many patients with common cancers who have either been diagnosed for the first time or are in remission can be reassured with hope for survival, both in the short- and long-term. They and their oncologists need to be aware that after the initial 5-year period following diagnosis, medical concerns other than cancer become increasingly more important.”
As researchers and medical professionals continue to find better ways to prevent and treat cancer, this study provides evidence that much has already been accomplished. Ultimately, as paper co-author Dr. Charles Fuchs, former director of the Yale Cancer Center, concluded, “we need to learn that the journey for a cancer patient is a lifetime, so we have to understand the long-term consequences and make sure that we don’t forget that there is more life to be lived and what the needs of survivors are. We need to put more attention on survivorship.”
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- En Cheng, MD, PhD, MSPH