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Surviving Cancer: Life Beyond The Diagnosis

Surviving Cancer: Life Beyond the Diagnosis

The month of June is Cancer Survivors Month and on the 5th June the world comes together to celebrate the challenges of cancer and surviving this disease.  A person who has survived the ill effects of cancer is termed a “survivor”, and “survivorship” relates to the experience and challenges relating to a cancer diagnosis.  The most common diagnosis of cancers includes breast, prostate, lung, and bowel. Need2Know Books has a wide range of essential guides that cover prevention, diagnosis, and recovery for the most common types of cancer. Visit: www.need2knowbooks.co.uk for further information.

Cancer Key Facts

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths.
  • The most common cancers are breast, lung, bowel, and prostate cancers.
  • Around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity.
  • Cancer-causing infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis, are responsible for approximately 30% of cancer cases in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
  • Many cancers can be cured if detected early and treated effectively.

Source: World Health Organization

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumors and neoplasms. One defining feature of cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs; the latter process is referred to as metastasis. Widespread metastases are the primary cause of death from cancer.

Cancer Worldwide

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. The most common in 2020 (in terms of new cases of cancer) were:

  • breast (2.26 million cases);
  • lung (2.21 million cases);
  • colon and rectum (1.93 million cases);
  • prostate (1.41 million cases);
  • skin (non-melanoma) (1.20 million cases); and
  • stomach (1.09 million cases).

Covid and Cancer

Covid seriously impacted the care cancer patients received with preventative measures such as screening and surgeries being significantly reduced during the height of the pandemic. During this time only extremely urgent cancer cases were given priority in the first year of the pandemic creating a backlog of cancer cases worldwide.

A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research and CF, a health consultancy and data analytics company, estimated that in the UK if NHS hospitals could maintain activity levels 5% above pre-pandemic levels it would still take until 2033 to clear the backlog of patients across the cancer care pathway.

Recent analysis by Macmillan published in late November 2021 has suggested that around 50,000 patients have missed a cancer diagnosis during the pandemic. Between March and June 2019, 18,400 people in England were diagnosed with stage one cancer, this dropped by 33% to 12,400 in the same period the following year.

Due to aggressive advertising campaigns and lockdown measures, many people delayed seeking help during the height of the pandemic as they didn’t want to overburden the health systems.

Surviving Cancer

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like a death sentence, but modern medicine and early preventative measures (until the pandemic) saw rates of cancer survival increasing. Screening for instance, such as mammography for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, and pap tests for cervical cancer have all improved the early detection of these types of cancers.

Historically, cancer survival is generally higher in people diagnosed aged under 40 years old, with the exception of breast, bowel, and prostate cancers, where survival is highest in middle age. There are also inequalities between men and women who are diagnosed with cancer. Survival rates in women are typically higher than in men. (Cancer Research UK) In addition, cancer survival is generally lower in people living in more deprived areas.

Treatments are making a big difference in survival rates. Treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are being used in better ways. Newer treatments such as targeted therapy, which uses drugs to target specific genes and proteins of cancer cells, and immunotherapy which boosts the body’s defenses, are extending and saving lives. Advances in palliative care or supportive care are also important. Fewer side effects can keep planned treatments on schedule and help with patients’ well-being.

Surviving cancer is a different experience for each person. Some people find it easy to re-build and enjoy life with a new sense of purpose as they undergo treatment and feel positive about their progress.

Others live in fear worried about further health risks. Re-discovering independence and moving beyond the care of their health team can be distressing and overwhelming if a person lacks a supportive network of friends and family. Of course, even when treatment lessens the memory of cancer never dies and so survivorship is a different experience for each person.

Life after diagnosis and recovery can also have an impact on friends and family as many cancer survivors have partners and loved ones who have been supportive throughout their journey, and their lives have had to change too.

Economically, having cancer can affect a person’s income as their lifestyle may change, or they are no longer able to do the job they once did.

Surviving cancer can be a great relief and survivors should be proud of the milestones they achieve. Yet, many survivors will need ongoing care and support, and many seek support groups, counselling, or become an advocate for other patients.

Life after cancer can be fulfilling and rewarding. Getting the right support and having access to resources helps boost confidence and rebuilds lives. Need2Know Books has a selection of essential guides focusing on breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, bowel cancer, and skin cancer. Visit: www.need2knowbooks for further information.

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