Although cancer recurrence may be the overriding fear for many survivors, a study from VCU Massey Cancer Center found only 51 percent of cancer survivors died from cancer, meaning nearly half of survivors died from other conditions.
These results indicate survivors could potentially benefit from a more comprehensive, less cancer-focused approach to their health, according to lead researcher Yi Ning, M.D., Sc.D., assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and associate research member at VCU Massey Cancer Center. Ning presented the results at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2012, held in Chicago, March 31 – April 4.
“We realized that the mortality rates for some types of cancer, such as breast cancer, had declined,” said Ning. “Cancer survivors live much longer than they did several decades ago. So with this large group of cancer survivors, we need to pay more attention to cancer survivors’ overall health.”
Ning and colleagues evaluated 1,807 cancer survivors who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) study. The most common forms of cancer among the study group were breast, prostate, cervical, lung and colorectal.
When originally surveyed through NHANES, a large percentage of the study group suffered from conditions other than cancer, including cardiovascular conditions, hypertension and diabetes.
Researchers followed patients for as long as 18.2 years. Over the course of the study, 776 cancer survivors died. Fifty-one percent died from cancer and 49 percent died from other causes. Cardiovascular disease was the primary cause of non-cancer deaths.
Researchers found that the longer patients survived after their initial cancer diagnosis, the more likely they were to die from another disease: 32.8 percent died from another condition within five years of diagnosis compared with 62.7 percent after 20 years.
With nearly half of cancer survivors dying from other causes, Ning said that physicians and patients must improve efforts to manage those risks.
“After the detection of cancer, clinicians and cancer survivors pay less attention to the prevention and treatment of other diseases and complications,” said Ning. “We shouldn’t neglect other aspects of health because we are focused on cancer and overlook other chronic conditions.”