Almost half of cancer survivors die of another disease, study shows

New research shows progress is being made in the war on cancer. But Dr. Jon LaPook reports on a largely unknown group that is still fighting a losing battle against the deadly disease.
Younger patients struggle in war on cancer
A patient receives cancer treatment

(CBS News) Almost half of people who have cancer die of another disease, according to a new study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Chicago, Ill.

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Fifty one percent of people diagnosed with cancer eventually died from it, but an overwhelming 49 percent died from other conditions. Lead researcher Dr. Yi Ning, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., suggested this means doctors should work on treating cancer victims' overall health, not just curing their disease.

"After the detection of cancer, clinicians and cancer survivors pay less attention to the prevention and treatment of other diseases and complications," Ning said in the press release. "We shouldn't neglect other aspects of health because we are focused on cancer and overlook other chronic conditions."

Researchers looked at 1,807 cancer survivors who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys study. They then followed the people for 18 years.

Most of the people involved in the study had breast, prostate, cervical, lung and colorectal forms of cancer. The majority of the people also had other health conditions, including cardiovascular conditions, hypertension and diabetes. Cardiovascular disease was the main cause of non-cancer death.

The longer the patients survived after their cancer diagnosis, the chances of them dying from a different disease increased. About 34 percent died within five years from another condition, as opposed to 62.7 percent who died within 20 years of getting cancer.

Part of the reason why mortality rates from non-cancer problems may be increasing is because so many people were able to survive cancer and live longer lives.

"We realized that the mortality rates for some types of cancer, such as breast cancer, had declined," said Ning. "Cancer survivors live much longer than they did several decades ago. So with this large group of cancer survivors, we need to pay more attention to cancer survivors' overall health."