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Many Cancer Survivors Have Unmet Physical and Mental Needs

Needs related to disease and treatment
14 Jan 2015
Palliative and supportive care

Even decades after being cured, many cancer survivors face physical and mental challenges resulting from their disease and its treatment. That's the conclusion of a new study published early online in the journal Cancer. The findings could help clinicians and other experts develop interventions that are tailored to the specific types of problems and concerns that cancer survivors may experience.

Increasingly, cancer patients are living many years after cancer treatment, with the number of survivors in the USA expected to top 19 million by 2024. While many survivors do well after treatment, some experience continuing problems that can significantly impair their quality of life well beyond the 5-year survival milestone. These problems and challenges can vary by the type of cancer patients had and the treatments they received.

To assess the unmet needs of cancer survivors, Mary Ann Burg, PhD, of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and colleagues looked at the responses from an American Cancer Society survey, wherein 1514 cancer survivors responded to the open-ended question, 'Please tell us about any needs you have now as a cancer survivor that ARE NOT being met to your satisfaction.' "This study was unique in that it gave a very large sample of cancer survivors a real voice to express their needs and concerns," said Dr. Burg.

Respondents ranged in age from 24 to 97 years and included proportionately more women, and 18% were minorities (black and Hispanic). Sixteen themes of unmet needs were identified. The number and type of unmet needs were not associated with the time since cancer treatment.

Survivors most frequently expressed physical problems, with 38% saying they were an issue. Breast cancer survivors identified more unmet needs than other survivors. Problems related to sexuality and incontinence among prostate cancer survivors were especially common. Older cancer survivors identified fewer unmet needs on average than younger survivors.

Financial problems related to the costs of treatment also persisted long after treatment for 20% of respondents, with black and Hispanic survivors being especially hard-hit.

Anxiety about recurrence was a common theme expressed by survivors regardless of the type of cancer they had or how many years they had survived cancer.

"Overall, we found that cancer survivors are often caught off guard by the lingering problems they experience after cancer treatment. In the wake of cancer, many survivors feel they have lost a sense of personal control, have reduced quality of life, and are frustrated that these problems are not sufficiently addressed within the medical care system," according to Dr. Burg. She noted that improvements are needed concerning public awareness of cancer survivors' problems, honest professional communication about the side effects of cancer, and the coordination of medical care resources to help survivors and their families cope with their lingering challenges.


Burg MA, Adorno G, Lopez ED,et al.Current unmet needs of cancer survivors: Analysis of open-ended responses to the American Cancer Society Study of Cancer Survivors II. Cancer 2015; January 12. doi: 10.1002/cncr.28951. [Epub ahead of print]

Last update: 14 Jan 2015

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