Also, patients diagnosed between 1995 and 2000 have an estimated 64 percent chance of surviving five years, compared with a 50 percent rate - a coin toss - three decades ago, a study by National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
"Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence as often was seen in the past - and still is," said Dr. Loria Pollack, CDC medical officer.
The number of cancer survivors - defined as anyone diagnosed with cancer, no matter how recently - soared from 3 million in 1971 to 9.8 million in 2001, the study found.
That number is likely to continue increasing as the population ages, because cancer risks increase with age, said Dr. Julia Rowland, director of the NCI's Office of Cancer Survivorship.
The government wants to increase the overall five-year survival rate to 70 percent by 2010.
Medical advances have also helped children with cancer live much longer, the study said. In the 1970s, the five-year survival rate was about 50 percent. Now it is 80 percent, Pollack said.
The study said health officials need to do more for the long-term care of cancer survivors.
Survivors need help with fears that their cancer will return or with unexpected medication side effects, including fatigue, memory difficulties or swelling of arms and legs, officials said.
Health officials also need to make sure cancer survivors have adequate access to health care. Their families have needs too, such as how to provide end-of-life care for a cancer survivor, Pollack said.
"This is a new arena for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general we have been focused on screening, early detection and prevention. Now we're looking at people who've had the diagnosis and what they need," Pollack said.
By Daniel Yee