Living with cancer blog

What's your definition of cancer survivor?

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. September 28, 2013

Millions of you are living with cancer. By the year 2022, researchers estimate more than 18 million people in the United States alone will be living with cancer. As our population ages, that number may grow.

In 1996, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship pioneered the definition of cancer survivor as being any person diagnosed with cancer, from the time of initial diagnosis until his or her death. They later expanded the definition to include family, friends and caregivers who are touched by a cancer diagnosis in any way.

I've met many of you who don't consider yourselves survivors. People in the midst of treatment and/or dealing with recurrence don't always identify with the term survivor. Others say they don't like the label survivor and instead prefer the term thriver — putting the focus on living as well as possible, without the focus on cancer as a chronic condition.

Recently, I found a new term — previvor — in an article. It refers to people who have survived the risk of cancer due to genetic mutation. We're living in a time when, armed with DNA test results, you can make informed decisions to prevent a diagnosis of cancer.

An example of a previvor might be a woman who has a BRCA mutation and actively manages that risk by increased screening or preventive measures such as bilateral mastectomy or removal of ovaries to prevent breast or ovarian cancer.

As additional genetic mutations are identified that indicate a cancer risk, more people likely will be identified as previvors. Prevention strategies continue to be discovered that will help you take an active role in preventing cancer from occurring.

How do you feel about the terms survivor and previvor? I'd love to hear your perspectives on this topic.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Sept. 28, 2013