The good news: the population of older cancer survivors is booming.1

The challenge: their needs are “unique and poorly understood”.2

By the year 2020, two-thirds of all cancer survivors—or 18 million people—will be aged 65 years or older (Figure 1).1,3

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What a “wonderful place to be in,” Julia H. Rowland, PhD, director of the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Office of Cancer Survivorship, told

Figure 1. United States cancer prevalence projections (2010-2020)3

United States cancer prevalence projections (2010-2020)

However, “we have an obligation to ensure that the individuals are being returned to a quality of life that is not only long but hopefully fulfilling after cancer and its treatment,” Dr. Rowland said. “We have to do better, no question, at reducing avoidable morbidity and preventable mortality” and to mitigate treatment consequences.

The first wave of baby boomers began turning 65 on January 1, 2011. The aging of this generation “promises to expand our survivor population and to elevate the importance of understanding and addressing the needs of older cancer survivors,” Dr. Rowland and colleagues wrote in 2011.3

RELATED: Care of Geriatric Cancer Patients Needs Improvement

She said that the late 1970s marked the first time more than 50% of people survived cancer; in 1977, fewer than 4 million were cancer survivors.1

Patients with cancer continue to suffer long after treatment, with a poorer quality of life due to persistent health problems as well as late-occurring effects of multimodal therapy, Dr. Rowland said, despite a change in how care is delivered, such as the use of less aggressive treatments and the move toward personalized medicine. This creates demands on multidisciplinary teams to understand how best to care for a patient who may also have multiple comorbidities and poor physical function when so few studies have focused on the older population.1