The complex health profile of long-term cancer survivors: prevalence and predictors of comorbid conditions

J Cancer Surviv. 2015 Jun;9(2):239-51. doi: 10.1007/s11764-014-0403-1. Epub 2014 Oct 16.


Purpose: Adult cancer survivors have complex medical profiles that may include chronic conditions beyond cancer. Few studies have examined the prevalence of comorbidities before and after a cancer diagnosis.

Methods: Cancer cases were sampled from two California cancer registries to examine medical conditions (ever experienced and developed after cancer) among 1,527 long-term breast, prostate, colorectal, and gynecological cancer survivors by socio-demographic, cancer-related, and health behavior variables.

Results: On average, survivors reported five medical conditions ever diagnosed (95 % CI, 4.8, 5.1) and 1.9 conditions (95 % CI, 1.8, 2.0) diagnosed after cancer. Breast cancer survivors reported the highest (5.8 ever, 2.9 post-cancer) and prostate survivors the lowest (4.0 ever, 1.0 post-cancer) comorbidity burden. Higher comorbidity burden was associated with older age, being a breast cancer survivor, divorced, widowed or separated, non-Hispanic White, overweight or obese, and not receiving chemotherapy. Breast and endometrial cancer survivors, as well as those more than 10 years post-diagnosis, obese, or physically inactive were more likely to report that these comorbidities occurred after cancer. Cancer treatment type, smoking, age, race/ethnicity, marital status, and education were not significant predictors of comorbidities acquired post-cancer.

Conclusions: Cancer survivors report a large number of medical conditions, many identified after a cancer diagnosis. Findings suggest that time since cancer diagnosis, body mass index, and activity level are important contextual variables when managing survivor's post-treatment follow-up care.

Implications for cancer survivors: Survivors may benefit when health professionals recommend specific strategies to achieve a healthy weight and regular physical activity for better long-term health outcomes after cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Mass Index
  • California / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data*