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breast cancer survivorA cancer survivor is anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer and is living today.Because of major advances in diagnosis and screening as well as better treatment for many types of cancer, many people are living longer with cancer.

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In this Article:

Cancer Statistics

Returning to Normal Life After Cancer
Follow-Up Care
Developing A Wellness Plan

Cancer Statistics

Approximately 12 million people in the United States have a history of cancer. Of these, over 60 percent were diagnosed 5 or more years earlier and 14 percent were diagnosed 20 or more years ago. Further, because cancer tends to affect older adults, about 60 percent of survivors are over the age of 65.

How long a person may survive after a diagnosis of cancer varies considerably by the type of cancer and the stage of diagnosis. Staging describes the extent or severity of an individual’s cancer. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan a person’s treatment and estimate their chance of recovery and recurrence.

For example, more than 85 percent of adults with breast, prostate, and skin cancers live at least five years beyond their diagnosis. More than half of people diagnosed with leukemia, a type of blood cancer, live at least five years beyond their diagnosis. A few cancers, such as liver and pancreatic cancer, have low survival rates regardless of the stage at diagnosis.

A person’s age, and more importantly their health status, when diagnosed with cancer may have an effect on their survival and recovery. Older adults are more likely to have other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Managing these conditions can complicate treatment and affect recovery time. Also, older people’s bodies metabolize, or break down, drugs at a slower rate than younger people, and this can have an effect on the way medicines are tolerated. For instance, some older adults may not be able to tolerate high doses of chemotherapy (cancer-fighting drugs) and radiation that are used to treat cancer.

Returning to Normal Life After Cancer

Many cancer survivors look forward to returning to a normal life after treatment ends. But for some this can be a stressful period. They may have questions about follow-up care, such as how often to see certain doctors. They may have concerns about how they feel and about what they can do to keep the cancer from returning.

Some survivors have to learn to deal with changes to their bodies, such as the loss of a limb and persistent effects of cancer and its treatment, such as pain or fatigue. Many survivors also must cope with the emotional effects of having cancer and potential changes in their relationships with their family and friends caused by illness.

Understanding what to expect after cancer treatment can help survivors and their families plan for follow-up care, make positive lifestyle changes, and make important health-related decisions.

Follow-Up Care For Cancer Survivors

Follow-up care after cancer treatment ends is very important because it helps to identify changes in your health. Your follow-up care depends on the type of cancer and the type of treatment you had, as well as your overall health.

Follow-up cancer care involves regular medical checkups that include a review of your medical history and a physical exam. Follow-up care may include blood work and other lab tests and procedures that allow the doctor to examine or take pictures of areas inside the body. At these visits, the doctor will look for signs that the cancer is recurring or has spread to other parts of the body. Follow-up care visits are also important to help prevent or detect other types of cancer, to address ongoing problems related to cancer treatment, and to look for effects that may develop later.

Follow-up care is usually different for each cancer survivor. It is important to work with your healthcare team to develop a plan. Together, you will need to decide which doctors will provide your follow-up care and other medical care, how often you should be seen, and what follow-up tests are needed. Since new doctors may participate in your care, it is important to keep a copy of your medical records to share with them. This information should contain your type of cancer, test results, and treatment details. Many older adults have other ailments, so it is also essential to include information about all medical conditions, medications, and doctors that you are seeing.

Follow-up visits provide an opportunity for you to discuss with your doctor any problems and concerns that you have and to ask questions. Tell your doctor if you are having trouble doing everyday activities, and ask about new symptoms that you should watch for and what to do about them.

At each visit, mention any health issues you are having, such as:

  • New symptoms or pain
  • Physical problems that bother you, such as fatigue or trouble sleeping
  • Other health problems that you have, such as diabetes or arthritis
  • Medicines, vitamins, or supplements that you are taking and other treatments you are using
  • Emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression

Developing A Wellness Plan For Cancer Survivors

Talk with your doctor about developing a wellness plan. Many cancer survivors benefit from the same advice given to anyone who wants to improve their health:

• Exercise
• Eat a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight
• Stop smoking
• Discuss any health concerns that you have with your doctor.

People who exercise regularly experience less fatigue, fewer symptoms of depression, and increased strength and endurance. Exercise can make you feel better and improve your overall well-being. Adding exercise to your daily routine can be as simple as taking a walk or joining an exercise class at your local wellness center.

Eat a balanced diet every day to get the nutrients that your body needs. You should focus on eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and other proteins. Go easy on fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol. Try lower-fat cooking methods such as broiling and steaming. These tips will also help you maintain a healthy weight.

Quitting smoking and other types of tobacco use can reduce the risk of your cancer recurring as well as your chance of developing other types of cancer. If you have trouble quitting tobacco on your own, talk to your doctor about resources or medications that can help you.

Don’t be shy about talking to your doctors about health problems or concerns that you have. They can help you assess the situation and get the help you need to deal with the issues. For example, if you are experiencing fatigue, perhaps you are taking a medication that can affect your energy level.

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Source: National Library of Medicine

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