Cancer survivors pose challenges and opportunities for long-term care

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor
One of the occupational hazards of being a journalist is that you often have to distribute bad news. But every so often you get to share something that's a bit more cheerful.

This is one of those times: A new study from the National Cancer Institute shows that the number of older people who are surviving cancer continues to rise.

Thanks to earlier detection and better treatments, the nation's No. 2 killer (after heart disease) is becoming far less of a death sentence than it was a mere generation ago. To put things in perspective, these cancer survivors mean millions of fewer tombstones in the nation's cemeteries.

What does this mean for long-term care operators? Simply put, more business.

As the ranks of residents who have survived cancer increase, so will their care needs. That's especially the case for the medicines, services and life-prolonging medical equipment they will require.

Numerous studies have shown that cancer patients rarely return to full health. The surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that can save their life takes a toll on their bodies, raising the risk both for second cancers and for other diseases such as heart disease.

What's more, older cancer survivors will be more likely to have multiple chronic diseases and tend to experience poorer physical functioning.

“By 2020, we expect that two-thirds of cancer survivors are going to be age 65 or older,” said Julia Rowland of the National Cancer Institute, which conducted the study.

Rowland added that during the next decade, the number of people who have lived five years or more after their cancer diagnosis is likely to increase by more than one-third, to 11.9 million. Full findings appear in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Of course, patients with some cancers face much better odds. For example, for people with prostate cancer, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100%. If you were a woman diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975, your five-year survival rate would have been 75%. Now it's nearly 90%.

For most adults, a cancer diagnosis remains a truly frightening prospect. But clear progress is being made in the battle against this insidious killer.

As a long-term care provider, you are in a unique position to aid and comfort people who have met cancer head-on — and lived to talk about it.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.