Understanding Cancer Survival Rates — What You Need to Know

The first question most people ask after receiving a cancer diagnosis is, “What’s my prognosis?” A prognosis is a medical term for predicting the possible or expected development of a malignant (cancerous) disease, including:

  • Likelihood of survival
  • Whether signs and symptoms will improve, worsen, or remain stable
  • Expectations of quality of life before, during, and after cancer treatment
  • The occurrence of potential complications
  • Whether the type of cancer is easy or difficult to treat

Your doctor cannot predict the future, but he or she can make an estimate based on other patients with the same cancer.

What Is a Cancer Survival Rate?

Cancer survival rates, also known as survival statistics, is defined as the percentage of people who survive cancer for a specific amount of time. Cancer statistics use an overall five-year survival rate.

As an example, according to the American Cancer Society, the overall five-year survival rate for stage 0 and stage I breast cancer is near 100 percent. This means that of all women who have carcinoma of the breast, almost 100 of every 100 are living five years after diagnosis. Conversely, only a few people out of every 100 die within five years of a breast cancer diagnosis.

Cancer survival rates are the result of rigorous studies comprising hundreds or thousands of people with the same malignancy. Your overall survival rate includes men and women of all ages who have been diagnosed with your disease, including those diagnosed at an early stage and those diagnosed later on.

In addition, your doctor may give you more specific statistics based on your cancer stage. Let’s take a look at this example: 56 percent of people diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer survive for five years after diagnosis. Further, the five-year survival rate for men and women diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer that has spread (metastasize) to other locations in the body is about 5 percent.

Other types of survival rates that provide more precise information include:

  • Disease-free survival rate. These statistics comprise the number of people who have no evidence or trace of cancer left after treatment.
  • Progression-free survival rate. This includes the number of patients who have received treatments for cancer and either:
    • have no sign of cancer recurrence
    • have cancer that has remained stable (not growing and spreading)

Although cancer survival rates often use a five-year mark, it does not mean cancer can no longer recur beyond five years. Certain cancers or tumors can reappear several years after the first diagnosis. For some carcinomas, if it has not reemerged by five years after initial diagnosis, the chances of a later recurrence is slim to none.

How Doctors Use Cancer Survival Rates

Your doctor or treatment provider might use survival statistics to:

  • Better understand your prognosis. The experience of other people who underwent the same situation as you can give your doctor an idea about your prognosis, including your likelihood to enter remission. Specific factors that contribute to understanding your prognosis are the age and general health of previous or current patients with the same cancer. Your doctor will use this information to help you recognize the seriousness of your condition.
  • Strategize your treatment plan. Statistics help reveal how people with your cancer type and cancer stage respond to treatment. You can make use of this information, along with your goals for recovery, to weigh the positives and negatives of each treatment option.

If two treatments provide you with similar opportunities for remission, but one has more side effects, you might consider choosing the option with fewer adverse effects to your health and quality of life.

What Cancer Survival Rates Can’t Tell You

Cancer survival statistics can be very frustrating. The survival rate for men and women with your type of cancer might be based on thousands of different people. As such, while cancer survival rates can give you a general idea about most patients in your situation, they cannot define your individual chances for cure or remission. For that reason, some people do not focus too much on cancer survival rates.

Survival rates have other limitations. For instance, they cannot give you information about the latest, most innovative treatments. People included in the most recent cancer statistics were diagnosed over five years ago. The effects of any current treatment discoveries will not affect survival statistics for at least another five years. Also, it is essential to understand that overall survival rates do not include whether cancer patients are still receiving treatment at five years or if they have achieved remission. And if your health is otherwise perfect, you are likely to have a higher chance of survival than the statistics suggest.

The Concept of “Cure”

It is public information that there is no definite cure for cancer. In general, the word “cure” does not apply to cancer yet. However, the medical community considers many cancers “cured” when doctors cannot detect cancer five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, recurrence after five years is still a possibility.

How Important Is Knowing?

It is up to you whether you want to know the survival rates associated with your type and stage of cancer. But because survival rates are unable to tell you about your situation, you might find the statistics impersonal and not helpful. You have every right to refuse all knowledge about survival rates, as they may cause unwanted fears and frustrations. Tell your doctor if you prefer not to know about the numbers. Some patients would rather know the “big picture” than hear about the detailed statistics.

In the case of some people, they want to know everything about their cancer. Knowing as much information about a disease reduces some people’s stress and anxiety before beginning treatment.

Receive Comprehensive, Expert Care for Your Disease

As you analyze your treatment options, consider relevant factors like side effects, costs, and your quality of life. At New Hope Unlimited, we provide a combination of alternative, holistic, and conventional cancer treatments with the least impact on the body. Give yourself your best chance at achieving remission. Call us today at 480-757-6573 or complete our form to schedule a consultation.

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