Definition of Cancer survivor

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Cancer survivor: Someone who has received the diagnosis of cancer. Others would say one is survivor only if they had a potentially fatal form of cancer and is therefore forced to face his or her own mortality. Still others today use the term to describe a person who has completed all of their anticancer therapy and presently shows no sign of the disease- that is, is in remission, and now must go on a face survival with both fear of recurrence and perhaps encumbered by the side effects and consequences of their therapies.

The phrase was coined on July 25, 1985 in an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Fitzhugh Mullan. Mullan's essay was entitled "The seasons of survival: Reflections of a physician with cancer." As a young physician, Mullan had learned in 1975 that he had a deadly malignancy, a mediastinal seminoma. He then began passing through what he called "the seasons of survival."

There is far from universal agreement among those who have had cancer about the term cancer survivor. Some object to it, saying they are cured. Others say they are living with cancer. And still others prefer to put cancer behind them, and argue that being called a cancer survivor stigmatizes them. However, there is no term that by consensus might be better and the term cancer survivor seems here to stay.


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