What is the Definition of “Cancer Survivor”?

What is the Definition of “Cancer Survivor”?

In 2016, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reported that there are over 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. And that number is expected to increase to 20 million by 2026.

But who, exactly, are cancer survivors?

 You might respond by saying that cancer survivors have simply survived their cancer. And while that is true, there is often more to the story.

Surviving cancer is more than recovering from a difficult disease:

  • It can mean coping with the physical repercussions of the illness or treatment, like when a man faces erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment or when a woman goes through surgical menopause after her ovaries are removed.
  • It can mean adapting to changing relationships, like when a child cares for a parent or when a spouse cares for a partner.
  • It can mean accepting changes in fertility and exploring new family-planning options, like sperm banking, in vitro fertilization, or adoption.
  • It can mean asking for help – from a colleague, a friend, a relative, a counselor, or a healthcare provider.
  • It can mean navigating new social situations, like when a woman meets a new partner, but feels anxious about her body after mastectomy.
  • It can mean adjusting one’s work schedule to accommodate treatment scheduling, follow-up appointments, or fatigue.
  • It can mean putting on a brave face and accepting the “new normal” when one is frightened of recurrence or anxious about the future.
  • It can mean creating a new budget to cover medical expenses or to make up for a financial shortfall during treatment.  

These are just some examples. Ultimately, the definition of cancer survivor is up to the individual.

Dr. Melanie Bone, a breast cancer survivor, put it this way:

As I considered the various definitions of survivor I encountered during this time, I came to realize that survivorship is highly individual. There are some survivors who, having just recently completed treatment, are well adjusted to their diagnosis and move forward like 10-year survivors. Conversely, there are some survivors who, at 15 years out, struggle with issues similar to patients still in the midst of initial treatment.

The ACS defines survivors as “everyone who’s ever had cancer, from the time of diagnosis for the rest of their life.”

Here at SexHealthMatters, we agree. Our definition includes people with chronic illness, those in remission, and those who are cancer-free. It includes people who survive the cancer itself and those who are surviving the smaller - but just as important – cancer challenges every day.


American Cancer Society

“ACS Report: Number of US Cancer Survivors Expected to Exceed 20 Million by 2026”

(June 2, 2016)



Bone, Melanie, MD, PA

“When Does Survivor Status Start?”

Cancer.net (American Society of Clinical Oncology)

“About Survivorship”

(July 2016)


Mayo Clinic

Broderick, Gregory A., MD

“Sexual Function in Male Cancer Survivors”

(Presentation slides. May 12, 2017)

Provided by presenter.

National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship

“Defining Cancer Survivorship”

(July 24, 2014)


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