'Urgent action' needed to address cancer survivors' quality of life: Johns Hopkins

Cancer survivors in the United States who report diminished quality of life "more than doubled" in the past two decades, according to a study published May 11 in JAMA Oncology.

Researchers from the Baltimore-based Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas, and the University of Minnesota's Masonic Cancer Center in Minneapolis studied 51,258 cancer survivors. The sample was weighted to represent a population of 178.8 million people. 

Of those studied, "3.6 million survivors reported a functional limitation in 1999. That number increased to 8.2 million in 2018 — a 2.25-fold increase," according to a June 7 Johns Hopkins news release. Johns Hopkins operates the Kimmel cancer center. "The adjusted prevalence of functional limitation was highest among survivors of pancreatic (80.3 percent) and lung (76.5 percent) cancers and lowest for survivors of melanoma (62.2 percent), breast (61.8 percent) and prostate (59.5 percent) cancers."  

The number of people who survive cancer has increased in the past 20 years, but little was understood about the quality of life of these patients until this study, which focused on functional ability. 

Investigators analyzed 20 years of patient records from a CDC study, the National Health Interview Survey, specifically looking at data from 1999 to 2018 to learn if cancer survivors suffered from functional limitations such as difficulty sitting or standing for long periods of time and engaging in social activities without help. The data represented mostly women (60.2 percent) and people older than 65 (55.4 percent).  

The study concluded that about 70 percent of cancer survivors had at least one functional limitation — double the amount of people the same age who did not have cancer. Additionally, "the study also found that Hispanic and Black survivors experienced a disproportionate increase in functional limitations during the study period, which could indicate improved access to cancer treatment but poorer quality of survivorship care," the release said.

"The fact that we are saving more lives from cancer is worth celebrating, but it also warrants a shift toward understanding and improving the quality of life for those who survive," S.M. Qasim Hussaini, MD, chief medical oncology fellow and a health systems researcher at the Kimmel Cancer Center and co-author of the study, said in the release. "Overall, our study calls for urgent action to address the burden of cancer and its treatment on physical, psychosocial and cognitive function."

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