Cancer survivors in the United States: age, health, and disability

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003 Jan;58(1):82-91. doi: 10.1093/gerona/58.1.m82.


Background: Relatively little is known about the health and disability of adult cancer survivors. As a way to explore these issues, data from the National Health Interview Survey (years 1998-2000) were analyzed.

Methods: Comparisons were made between cancer survivors (n = 4878) and those without a history of cancer (n = 90,737), using both descriptive statistics and logistic-regression models on general health status, psychological disability, limitations in activities of daily living, physical function, and health-related ability to work. Among cancer survivors, health and disability status were assessed by cancer site or type, age at diagnosis, and years since cancer diagnosis.

Results: Compared with individuals without a history of cancer or other chronic disease, cancer survivors without other chronic diseases were significantly more likely to report being in fair or poor health (odds ratio, or OR, 2.97), a psychological disability (OR 2.18), limitations of activities of daily living or instrumental activities of daily living (OR 2.22), functional limitations (OR 1.74), and, among those under the age of 65, being unable to work because of a health condition (OR 3.22). The likelihood of poor health and disability was much higher among cancer survivors who also reported comorbid chronic conditions.

Conclusions: Providers caring for cancer survivors should be made aware of the long-term health consequences of cancer and consider appropriate supportive care for their patients. The identification of long-term effects of cancer that contribute to disability and the interventions needed to ameliorate these and their consequences should become a more prominent aspect of the research agenda.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cause of Death*
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Quality of Life*
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Survival Analysis
  • United States / epidemiology