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More Winners, More Challenges in Cancer Wars

“Here’s some good news about cancer,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “More people are beating it.”

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

Today nearly 14 million Americans and 749,000 Canadians are cancer survivors. That means they received their cancer diagnoses and successfully completed treatment five or more years ago. Such victories are increasingly common. By 2022, researchers expect the number of cancer survivors in the United States and Canada will exceed 18 million.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) attribute this surge in survivorship to improvements in cancer screenings and treatments.

Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Facts & Figures, a recently published collaboration of the ACS and the NCI, finds that:

  • The median age of patients at the time of cancer diagnosis is 66
  • Nearly half of all cancer survivors are 70 years old or older
  • Only five percent are younger than 40

The most common cancers among male survivors are:

  • Prostate (43 percent)
  • Colon and rectal (nine percent)
  • Melanoma skin cancer (seven percent)

The most common cancers among female survivors are:

  • Breast (41 percent)
  • Uterine (eight percent)
  • Colon and rectal (eight percent)

“This report was created to call attention to the unique medical, psychological and social needs of cancer survivors,” says Borck, noting that cancer treatments often have debilitating side effects. “Until improvements in screening and treatment extended survival rates, the medical profession was familiar only with short-term side effects. These include fatigue, nausea and pain. With improved, extended outcomes, the ACS and NCI are calling for health care providers to be better prepared to address the long-term side effects of cancer treatments.”

Long-term side effects

It is not unusual for serious health conditions including osteoporosis, weakened hearts and cognitive disabilities to develop in people who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Fears of recurrence and the realization that life-saving medical treatments for one cancer may have increased their risk for others are also issues with which many survivors of cancer struggle. These mental traumas can affect relationships at home and at work.

Sometimes it can be years before long-term side effects develop. In June, “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts disclosed that she has myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a cancer of the blood. The disease is a result of medical treatment Roberts received five years ago when she was fighting breast cancer. A bone marrow transplant (see Marrow Donation: Lifesaving Gift from a Stranger) offered Roberts the best hope of recovering from MDS, and she recently underwent that procedure.

Roberts’ situation is indicative of the “new normal” for many survivors of cancer: health issues related to their cancer treatments can appear at any time and can be ongoing. To help survivors resume and maintain productive lives, awareness of their challenges is essential.

The American Cancer Society has free programs and services, including assistance in finding local support groups that help people with cancer, long-term cancer survivors and their loved ones understand cancer, manage their lives through treatment and recovery, and find the emotional support they need.

The LHSFNA provides a number of brochures and other materials that can educate Laborers about cancer. This information can help Laborers make the lifestyle changes that willreduce their cancer risk. These resources are available through the Fund’s Publications Catalogue

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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