Health Care Demands Rise as Cancer Survivors Live Longer

Jennifer G. Allen
Published Online: Thursday, July 14th, 2016
The US health system can expect to manage an explosion of older cancer survivors, new study results have found.
 
Lead study author Shirley Bluethmann, PhD, MPH, of the US National Cancer Institute and her colleagues analyzed US health data from 1975 to 2012 alongside US Census data to project the incidence of cancer and population ages from 2016 to 2040.
 
Their study, which was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention,  found that by 2040, cancer survivors between the ages of 65 and 74 years will make up 24% of all cancer survivors, while those aged 75 to 84 years will comprise 31% of total survivors. Meanwhile, survivors 85 years and older will make up 18%.
 
As cancer survivors continue to live longer and require care for other chronic conditions, the US health care system will face unprecedented demands.
 
“This steady and dramatic growth will affect the health care system, and so is sometimes referred to as the ‘silver tsunami,’” Dr. Bluethmann told HealthDay. “It not only has implications for older people who are at higher risk for cancer, it also means that we will have higher numbers of older patients with complex health needs.”
 
Kim Miller, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, observed that this trend poses several concerns for the health care profession:

1. Relatively few clinical trials on older adults will limit knowledge of optimal treatments.
2. Dwindling numbers of oncologists may be inadequate to treat growing populations.
3. Chronic diseases, like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, will complicate care for older cancer survivors.
4. A high volume of Medicare claims will cause financial strain.
 
Dr. Bluethmann recommended that health care providers prepare to meet the challenges and needs of this aging population by building collaborative teams across the care spectrum.
 
“We also need to emphasize the benefits of lifestyle for cancer prevention and control across the life course,” she said.
 
In retail clinics, nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants can advise adults that certain lifestyle improvement measures they can take now could help improve their chances of maintaining a high quality of life as they age.
 
According to Dr. Bluethmann, “Lifestyle choices, including doing regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, may prevent some kinds of cancer, but also offer many benefits in preserving function, reducing symptoms, and promoting a high quality of life into old age.”

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