Cancer has been one of the leading causes of death in the United States for decades. However, recent trends show that there has been a gradual decline in cancer over the past few decades. Along with it comes the trend in survival rates as our medical technology advances. As the trend continues, new problems surface regarding the well-being of cancer survivors. Researchers are still actively pursuing improvements in the quality of life of cancer survivors. We will explore these improvements through various studies on cancer survival with a focus on its effects on patients themselves.
Variability in Cancer Survival Rates
Scientists measure cancer survival rates through a time period, usually at 5-year or 10-year intervals. Although this might appear as a short survival period at a glance, we observe this number because cancer is generally diagnosed at older ages. While this is statistically the case, cancer diagnosis still affects a range of patients from childhood to old age.
This diversity in the age of the patients carries over to a diverse result for survival rates in each time period. In general, there have been medical improvements throughout all kinds of cancer treatment and diagnosis, but cancer survival rates vary significantly. This means that different types of cancer have different survival rates.
We can see this variance in a 2022 report by the American Cancer Society (ACS). Female breast, prostate, and uterine corpus cancer had a 5-year survival rate of more than 80% from 2011 to 2017. Contrastingly, liver, lung, and pancreatic cancer had a 5-year survival rate of less than 25% over the same period.
The State of Cancer Survival Then And Now
In contrast to the report by the ACS, a 2003 overview study presents a general perspective on cancer survival rates. The researchers analyzed figures from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database from 1996 to 2000. They report a 62.7% 5-year relative survival rate through all kinds of cancers with varying degrees per type. In specific cancers such as prostate, female breast, uterine corpus, and urinary bladder cancer, the relative survival rate records at over 75% over a period of 8 years.
To highlight the medical developments from a specific type of cancer, we turn to lung cancer. We use this as an example because it is the type of cancer that causes the most deaths. In terms of improvements in the 5-year relative survival rate, a 2019 study notes that lung cancer went from 10.7% in 1973 to 19.8% in 2010. The researchers give credit to the increasing utility of chemotherapy with the support of radiotherapy, making lung cancer treatment more effective.
All the data above gives us an overview of the state of cancer survival right now. Although there is good news about improvements in certain types of cancer, we still require better understanding and technology for others. More so, we also require a better understanding of the patients who went through cancer and its treatment.
Quality of Life After Cancer Survival
Life after cancer treatment can be quite different. Several factors can come into play in terms of the quality of life a patient has after treatment. Quality of life encompasses the physical, social, and psychological aspects of life. Medical professionals should consider all of these aspects after the treatment of a cancer patient.
Stress is one of the focal points that diminishes the quality of life of cancer survivors. Stressors can come from different factors. Patients diagnosed with cancer at an early age can express a major form of these stressors. In a follow-up consultation during their adulthood, these childhood survivors can show post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS).
In a research published in 2019, scientists measured the post-traumatic stress scale of 6,844 childhood cancer survivors. They noted that long-term cancer survivors who show signs of PTSS have observed mental and physical impairments, including difficulty in task efficiency, working memory, organization, and emotional regulation.
In addition, the Journal of Cancer Survivorship published a 2020 meta-analysis study on the quality of life of cancer survivors. The results showed that physical health, role-physical health, and mental health significantly impacted cancer patients after treatment. The researchers urge the community to perform more studies on the care that cancer survivors need in terms of quality of life.
Stress Reduction Attempts In Cancer Survivors
In an attempt to alleviate these burdens on the quality of life of cancer survivors, researchers are exploring different kinds of stress reduction therapies. These therapies include holistic treatment of the individual through exercise and mindfulness.
A pilot study in 2017 introduced the use of a mobile mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast cancer or the mMBSR(BC) program through a smartphone. The program includes stress-reducing interventions that integrate meditation and yoga in a 2-hour period performed weekly for the duration of 6 weeks. The 13 participants who completed the program observed improvements in the psychological and physical symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, sleep quality, fatigue, and overall quality of life. The researchers encourage further iterations of this pilot study in a larger sample to support the feasibility of a convenient stress reduction program for cancer survivors.
As we can see, exercise and general movement from yoga can be good therapy for cancer survivors’ physical, social, and psychological well-being. In fact, a journal article in 2019 studied the benefits of the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program. This program includes survivors from varying types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer. These participants participated in physical fitness programs incorporating 6-minute walks, chest and leg presses, sit-and-reach exercises, and one-leg stands. The article reports improvements in participants in terms of physical function, anxiety, depression, fatigue, social role satisfaction, and pain.
Compared to the previous mMBSR(BC) program, the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program emphasizes the significance of a community-based intervention in supporting cancer survivors. Although the mMBSR(BC) program focuses more on individual wellness, we should look into both programs if you or a loved one is a cancer survivor.