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Cancer survival rate: What it means for your prognosis
Find out what a survival rate can tell you and what it can't. This can help you put survival statistics in perspective.By Mayo Clinic staff
One of the questions many people ask when first diagnosed with cancer is about their prognosis. You might want to know whether your cancer is relatively easy or more difficult to cure. Your doctor can't predict the future, but an estimate is possible based on the experiences of other people with the same cancer.
It's up to you whether you want to know the survival rates related to your cancer. The numbers can be confusing and frightening.
What is a cancer survival rate?
Cancer survival rates or survival statistics tell you the percentage of people who survive a certain type of cancer for a specific amount of time. Cancer statistics often use an overall five-year survival rate. For instance, the overall five-year survival rate for bladder cancer is 80 percent. That means that of all people diagnosed with bladder cancer, 80 of every 100 were living five years after diagnosis. Conversely, 20 out of every 100 died within five years of a bladder cancer diagnosis.
Cancer survival rates are based on research that comes from information gathered on hundreds or thousands of people with a specific cancer. An overall survival rate includes people of all ages and health conditions who have been diagnosed with your cancer, including those diagnosed very early and those diagnosed very late.
Your doctor may be able to give you more specific statistics, based on your stage of cancer. For instance, 53 percent, or about half, of people diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer live for at least five years after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer that has spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body is 4 percent.
Overall survival rates don't specify whether cancer survivors are still undergoing treatment at five years or if they've become cancer-free (achieved remission). Other types of survival rates that give more specific information include:
- Disease-free survival rate. This is the number of people with cancer who achieve remission. That means they no longer have signs of cancer in their bodies.
- Progression-free survival rate. This is the number of people who still have cancer, but their disease isn't progressing. This includes people who may have had some success with treatment, but their cancer hasn't disappeared completely.
Cancer survival rates often use a five-year survival rate. But that doesn't mean that cancer can't recur beyond five years. Cancer can recur many years after successful treatment. Discuss your risk of a cancer recurrence with your doctor.
How are cancer survival rates used?
You and your doctor might use survival statistics to:
- Understand your prognosis. The experience of other people in your same situation can give you and your doctor an idea of your prognosis — the chance your cancer will be cured. Other factors include your age and your general health. Your doctor uses all of these factors to help you understand the seriousness of your condition.
- Develop a treatment plan. Statistics can also show how people with your same cancer type and stage respond to treatment. You can use this information, along with your own goals for treatment, to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment option. For instance, if two treatments give you similar chances for remission, but one has more side effects, you might choose the option with fewer side effects. In another example, a treatment may offer a chance for a cure, but only for 1or 2 people out of every 100 who go through the treatment. For some, the chances with this treatment are promising enough to put up with many side effects. For others, the chance for a cure isn't worth the side effects of the treatment. Your doctor can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of each treatment you're considering.
(1 of 2)
- Understanding prognosis and cancer statistics: Questions and answers. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/support/prognosis-stats. Accessed Feb. 22, 2011.
- Cancer facts & figures 2010. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-026238.pdf. Accessed Feb. 22, 2011.
- Understanding statistics used to guide prognosis and evaluate treatment. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/patient/All+About+Cancer/Newly+Diagnosed/Understanding+Survival+Statistics. Accessed Feb. 22, 2011.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 6, 2011.