Cancer survivors are people who have had cancer and are still alive, whether or not they still have this condition. Being a cancer survivor can lead to challenges but there are many support groups available to provide help.

Improvements in treatment and early detection mean more people are surviving cancer. As of 2022, 69% of survivors have lived 5 or more years since their diagnosis, 47% have lived 10 or more years, and 18% have lived 20 or more years.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) uses the term “survivor” for anyone who has ever had cancer and is still alive, whether or not they still have cancer.

Some of the general public may use this term to refer to someone who has either lived an amount of time after a cancer diagnosis or those who no longer have cancer.

Cancer survivors face numerous challenges. Read on to learn more about cancer survivorship, the challenges a person may face, and where to find support.

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The ACS defines a cancer survivor as anyone currently living with cancer and those who have been in remission for many years.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that cancer survivors are every individual with a cancer diagnosis up until the end of life.

Cancer is not a straightforward condition. Some people may live many years without symptoms, whereas others may go into remission and then develop symptoms again.

An anecdotal definition of cancer survivorship may be a person who has survived the active stages of cancer. However, healthcare professionals use the term “cancer remission”, which means the signs and symptoms of this condition are no longer present.

Most cancer survivors still have cancer. The NCI defines a survivor as any person with a cancer diagnosis.

People in remission and those who no longer have cancer are also survivors.

Cancer can affect many aspects of a person’s health and well-being. However, there is not a singular experience of cancer survivorship. People may feel a range of emotions and may require more or less help with medical conditions and life changes.

Both cancer and cancer treatment may cause several health changes and impact a person’s daily life.

Health changes

Cancer survivors may experience health changes such as:

  • Heart conditions: People may have a higher risk of having congenital heart failure, coronary heart disease, and arrhythmia.
  • Lung damage: People may experience inflammation of the lungs, difficulty breathing, and a change in how well the lungs work. Older adults and those with lung disease may be at higher risk.
  • Hormone changes: Females may experience symptoms of menopause, and males may have similar symptoms due to hormone therapy for prostate cancer or testicle removal. Radiation therapy can also lower hormone levels and cause changes to the thyroid gland.
  • Infertility: Cancer treatment may cause infertility or make it more difficult to have biological children.
  • Risk of cancer: People may have a higher risk of developing cancer.
  • Nervous system changes: People may develop brain fog or peripheral neuropathy, which is pain from nerve damage.

This is not a complete list, and surviving cancer does not necessarily mean a person will develop any specific health problem.

The long-term effects depend on the type of cancer a person has, their overall health, and the types of treatment they receive.

Daily life

Cancer treatment and survival can affect many different aspects of a person’s life. These include:

  • Work: A person may have to miss work for cancer treatment. The effects of cancer treatment, such as fatigue, may also affect work performance.
  • Finances: Cancer treatment can be expensive. A person may also have fewer job opportunities or lose wages when they take time off for cancer care. This can have long- and short-term financial implications.
  • Education: As with work, cancer treatment can affect a person’s ability to attend classes and study. This may affect other areas of life, such as employment and finances.
  • Sex life: Cancer may also affect a person’s sex life. A 2018 paper reports that around 60% of cancer survivors experience sexual dysfunction.

The American Cancer Society offers the following resources for cancer survivors:

Cancer survivors may also find support and help through:

  • local support groups, such as through a church or cancer hospital
  • online support groups, such as private groups on social media
  • psychotherapy with a therapist who specializes in cancer
  • cancer awareness events that center on the needs and experiences of survivors

People may also find it helpful to have a prepared list of items or help that they can give to others. Lists may include preferred speaking topics, household chores, and groceries.

Cancer survivors are anyone who has a diagnosis of cancer up until the end of life. There are a variety of ways cancer treatment and the condition itself can affect a person’s health and life, such as increasing the risk of certain conditions and affecting their finances.

People may find help and support through friends, family, charities, or support groups. There is no wrong way to approach cancer survivorship, and articulating one’s needs and feelings may help.