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NCI Predicts a "Silver Tsunami" of Cancer Survivors by 2040, 75% Will Be Over 65

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, PhD
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that the aging US population will contribute to a substantial increase in the number of older cancer survivors over the next 25 years.
Baby boomers strike again...this time among cancer survivors. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that the aging US population will contribute to a substantial increase in the number of older cancer survivors over the next 25 years.

This could mean a substantial stress on the already stretched resources of the healthcare system. Cancer survivors have unique needs; add to that the comorbidities in the older age group and the result is a very complicated healthcare map.

For this predictive modeling study, researchers from the NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) analyzed incidence and survival data from 1975 to 2011, gathered from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, while the comorbidity burden was estimated from the SEER-Medicare claims data. The DCCPS scientists discovered 15.5 million cancer survivors in 2016, less than 38% of whom were under 65. By 2040, it was estimated that this number would grow to 26.1 million, 73% of whom would be over 65. Only 18% of cancer survivors are predicted to be between 50 and 64 years of age, and just about 8% will be younger than 50. The scientists write that these trends foreshadow a ‘silver tsunami’ of cancer survivors whose health needs we are unprepared to meet.

According to the study’s senior author, Shirley Bluethmann, PhD, MPH, what sets the research apart is that the seniors in the study were further divided into age groups, instead of being clumped together as being 65 and older. “We know that the health and function of older adults is extremely diverse, and [we] thought it would be valuable to provide more discrete estimates of prevalence across the older population of survivors,” she said in an interview.

For instance, by the year 2040, the study predicts that a sizable portion of the older survivors will be over 85 years old. Additionally, 26% of survivors in their late 60s had severe comorbidities, compared with 47% of those 85 and older. The cancer site mattered as well—lung cancer survivors seemed to have the highest burden of comorbidities, the study found.

These results have a far-reaching impact on the current structure of the US healthcare system, and needs a new approach. “Training diverse providers—including nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants—to help with cancer-specific follow-up may be important to assist in the growing burden of caring for older survivors,” Bluethmann said.

Reference

Bluethmann SM, Mariotto AB, Rowland JH. Anticipating the “silver tsunami”: prevalence trajectories and comorbidity burden among older cancer survivors in the United States Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2016;25(7):1029-1036. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0133.

 
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