Stages of Cancer Survivorship

A cancer survivor is defined as anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the balance of his or her life.

Since the 1980s, cancer survivors and doctors have attempted to describe the stages that cancer survivors typically experience. Most break it down into some version of the three stages outlined below:

Living with cancer

Living with cancer refers to the experience of receiving a cancer diagnosis and any treatment that may follow. During this time, patients will undergo treatment and may be asked to join a clinical trial to study new cancer therapies. Patients and their caregivers may be offered services to help cope with emotional, psychological, and financial concerns.

Living through cancer

Living through cancer is the period following treatment in which the risk of cancer recurring is relatively high. Many patients are relieved that treatment is over, but anxious about no longer seeing their cancer doctor on a regular basis. During this stage, patients typically see their cancer doctor two to four times a year depending on their circumstances.

Living beyond cancer

Living beyond cancer refers to post-treatment and long-term survivorship. While two out of three survivors say their lives return to normal, one-third report continuing physical, psychosocial, or financial consequences. During this stage, most survivors go back to the care of their primary physician. Ideally, they will have developed a long-term healthcare plan with their cancer doctor to be implemented by their regular doctor.

—from the National Action Plan for Cancer Survivorship: Advancing Public Health Strategies