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Study: Many cancer survivors die from other conditions

Tuesday April 3, 2012
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Although cancer recurrence may be the overriding fear for many survivors, nearly half of survivors in one study 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, MD, ScD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Community Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and associate research member at VCU’s Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Va.

"We realized that mortality rates for some types of cancer, such as breast cancer, had declined," Ning said in a news release. "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 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 more than 18 years. During the course of the study, 776 cancer survivors died — 51% from cancer and 49% from other causes. Cardiovascular disease was the primary cause of noncancer deaths, and respiratory illnesses were another common cause.

Researchers found that the longer patients survived after their initial cancer diagnosis, the more likely they were to die from another disease: 32.8% died from another condition within five years of diagnosis compared with 62.7% after 20 years.

With nearly half of cancer survivors dying from other causes, Ning said clinicians 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," Ning said. "We shouldn’t neglect other aspects of health because we are focused on cancer and overlook other chronic conditions."

The study was presented April 3 in Chicago at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting. To read the abstract, visit http://bit.ly/HQHPFH.


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