Who is a cancer survivor? Years ago, some suggested that the definition should only include people who were cancer-free for a minimum amount of time after their diagnosis. NCI's definition begins at the time of diagnosis. Below, find the definition of cancer survivor, as well as other survivorship-related and statistical terms.

Survivorship Terms

Cancer Survivor

An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis through the balance of life. There are many types of survivors, including those living with cancer and those free of cancer. This term is meant to capture a population of those with a history of cancer rather than to provide a label that may or may not resonate with individuals.

Adapted from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship

Cancer Survivorship

Cancer survivorship is a state of being, including the perspectives, needs, health, and the physical, psychological, social, and economic challenges experienced by people and caregivers after a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer Survivorship is a state of being, including the perspectives, needs, health, and economic challenges experienced by people and caregivers after a cancer diagnosis.
Definition of Cancer Survivorship, definition and graphic developed by the National Cancer Institute

Phases of Cancer Survivorship

There is no one face or kind of cancer survivor. Some have been treated for their cancer and remain cancer-free, while others continue to live with cancer. The experiences and goals of care for each cancer survivor are unique and dynamic. The figure below depicts one way to think about the different types of cancer survivors, including those diagnosed with early-stage cancer or advanced cancer and those who are diagnosed with or progress to end-stage cancers.

A pathway diagram that highlights the phases of cancer survivorship
Phases of Cancer Survivorship, graphic created by the National Cancer Institute

Cancer Survivorship Research

Cancer survivorship research seeks to enhance the health and well-being of all cancer survivors and caregivers. This research aims to prevent and mitigate acute and late-occurring physical, psychological, social, and economic effects of cancer and its treatment, improve care delivery, promote healthy behaviors, develop and sustain research infrastructure, and improve research methodologies for individuals impacted by cancer.

Cancer Survivorship Research graphic. The terminology has fanned layers. Layer 1: survivor or caregiver, 2: care team, 3: healthcare system, 4:community, 5: healthcare payer, 6:policy, 7:acute toxicities, long-term effects, late effects, healthcare delivery, financial impact, health promotion/health behaviors, infrastructure, methods and measurements.

Cancer Survivorship Research, graphic created by the National Cancer Institute


  • Acute physiological or psychosocial toxicities: symptoms or side effects that can occur during or immediately following cancer treatment
  • Long-term effects of cancer and its treatment: physiological and psychosocial issues that can last months or years after cancer treatment has ended
  • Late effects of cancer and its treatment: physiological and psychosocial issues that occur months to years after receiving a treatment (including recurrence and subsequent malignancies)
  • Health care delivery: cancer care, factors influencing care, and outcomes of care
  • Financial impact and cancer health economics: factors associated with the organization, production, delivery and demand for cancer-related care, as well as outcomes such as type, quantity, quality, and cost of care faced by the patient, family, payer, and society
  • Health promotion/Health behaviors: encouraging or supporting healthy behaviors for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Examples include physical activity, nutrition, prevention, sleep, vaccination, and avoiding risky behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol use)
  • Infrastructure: organizational, health system, and other elements necessary to build research resources, including cohorts, registries, and biobanking repositories
  • Methods and measurements: improving and developing methodology for cancer survivors and caregivers through innovations in research design, measurement, data collection and data analysis techniques

Statistical Terms

Cancer Incidence
The cancer incidence rate is the number of new cancers of a specific site/type occurring in a specified population during a year, usually expressed as the number of cancers per 100,000 population at risk.
Cancer Prevalence
Cancer prevalence is the number of people alive on a certain date who have been diagnosed with cancer. This includes individuals who are newly diagnosed, in active treatment, have completed active treatment, and those living with progressive symptoms of their disease. Prevalence is derived from long-term incidence and survival rates.
Limited Duration Prevalence
Limited duration prevalence represents the proportion of people alive on a certain day who had a diagnosis of the disease within the past x years (e.g. x = 5, 10, 20, or 25 years).
Observed Survival Rate
The observed survival rate, which is obtained using standard life table procedures, represents the proportion of cancer patients surviving for a specified length of time after diagnosis.

For other cancer terms, see the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms.

Last Updated
July 04, 2024