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The cancers that patients are most likely to survive

April 28, 2015

    Juliette Mullin, senior editor

    Research has shown for some time that the prognosis for someone diagnosed with cancer today is better than it was even just 20 years ago. But new data published in JAMA Oncology show just how much better it really is: An adult ages 50 to 64 diagnosed with cancer between 2005 and 2009 was 39% to 68% less likely to die from the disease within five years than someone diagnosed between 1990 and 1994.

    But, despite major improvements, survival rates still vary significantly based on age, gender, and—most of all—cancer type.

    Survival rates vary significantly by cancer

    According to data from the National Cancer Institute, the cancers with the highest five-year survival rates are:

    • Prostate cancer (>99%)
    • Thyroid (98%)
    • Testis (97%)
    • Melanoma of the skin (93%)
    • Breast (91%)

    But as you can see in the graph below, the five-year survival rates for at least eight cancers remain below 50%.

    That said, even the cancers with the lowest survival rates have seen huge survival gains since the 1970s. For example, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer increased from 3% between 1975 and 1977 to 7% between 2004 and 2010.

    Meeting the needs of survivors

    As the survival rates get better, the number of cancer survivors inevitably grows.

    In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) expects there to be nearly 19 million cancer survivors living in the United States by 2024, up from 14.5 million survivors in 2014. 

    But what should providers be doing to meet the needs of these survivors?

    Advisory Board consultant Marisa Deline notes that cancer survivors have "a vast and diverse set of needs that require time, effort, and resources from their providers."

    But, she says, "Most cancer programs have difficulty meeting even one of these needs for a single patient, so attempting to meet all of them across a growing population of survivors requires an entirely new model of care delivery." Moreover, many of the services that cancer survivors need—such as psychosocial counseling, nutrition services, and genetic counseling—are not covered by insurance companies and can strain hospital resources.

    Learn about survivorship program metric types

    To focus survivorship efforts, Deline recommends that hospitals assess needs at a population level, assess market demands and physician support, and evaluate existing resources. She emphasizes the need to work with primary care providers to address short- and long-term needs. 

    Moreover, Deline notes that survivorship services vary widely based on the type of cancer. For example:

    • Breast cancer survivors often need and want services related to physical rehabilitation, fertility, sexual health, and complementary and alternative medicine;
    • Head and neck cancer survivors often need dental care, nutrition services, physical rehabilitation, and psychosocial support; and
    • Colorectal cancer survivors might need an ostomy clinic, financial counseling, and occupational rehabilitation.

    Learn more about the 'survivorship challenge'

    This study offers strategies for developing a comprehensive yet sustainable program that meets patients' needs and differentiates your cancer program in the eyes of referring physicians.


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