Hope After a Cancer Diagnosis

More people in the U.S. are surviving cancer than ever before.

According to a recent report by the American Cancer Society, the number of estimated cancer survivors living in the U.S. increased from 15.5 million in 2016 to 16.9 million in 2019. By 2030, that number is expected to grow by nearly a third.

“This increase in survivorship stems from multiple factors,” says Neal Christiansen, MD, an Oncologist at the Prevea Cancer Center. “Some of it is due to the fact that people are simply living longer; some of it is due to improved detection; and a lot of it is the result of improved treatments. If you look at the incidence rates—the number of new cancers being diagnosed—that number is declining overall. When you add up all these factors, the conclusion is that people are truly living longer after diagnosis.”

This promising trend also indicates the need for medical providers to plan for life after treatment and pay closer attention to the challenges survivors face. According to Dr. Christiansen, some common challenges include side effects from treatment, the financial burden of medical bills, cancer recurrence, and second cancers.

However, Dr. Christiansen notes, the most important takeaway from the report is that there is hope.

“I want people to understand that having a cancer diagnosis does not mean you are automatically going to die or that you are going to die quickly,” Dr. Christiansen says. “A lot of people respond well to treatment and live for years—even in cases of advanced cancers. The nihilistic outlook that ‘nothing can be done, so why bother?’ is outdated. Modern cancer treatments are highly effective and, as indicated by this new report, are helping people live longer lives.”

The Prevea Cancer Center at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital is accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. For more information, call 715.717.3300.

If you, a family member, or someone your children know is affected by cancer, do not shy away from having a conversation about what that means.

“Tackling this topic head-on prevents children from learning about cancer from a peer or on the internet,” says Courtney Hovland, LPC, a Licensed Professional Counselor at Prevea Health. “It is better for a child to hear about it from a parent or other adult they trust.”

Hovland recommends starting the conversation by asking your children what they think having cancer means, then letting them ask questions.

“Answer the best way you can by being truthful,” Hovland says. “Saying, ‘I do not know’ when you do not have an answer is OK. Then take the time to provide any additional information you feel is necessary or would help them better understand the situation. However, remember that children just need the basics. They only need to know enough about what is going on for them to understand and to be able to start coping with the changes that might occur.”

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