When people first diagnose cancer, many people ask for their prognosis. You may want to know if your cancer is relatively easy or more difficult to cure. Your doctor can not predict the future, but can estimate based on the experience of other people with the same cancer.
It's up to you if you want to know the survival rates associated with your cancer. The numbers can be confusing and scary.
What is a cancer survival rate?
Cancer survival rates or survival statistics indicate what percentage of people survive a particular cancer for a given period of time. Cancer statistics often use a survival rate of five years.
For example, the survival rate for bladder cancer is five years, 78 percent. This means that of all people with bladder cancer, 78 out of every 100 people live five years after diagnosis. Conversely, 22 out of every 100 people died within five years of bladder cancer diagnosis.
Cancer survival rates are based on data collected from hundreds or thousands of people with a specific cancer. Overall survival rates include people of all ages and health conditions who have been diagnosed with cancer, including those diagnosed very early and very late.
Your doctor may be able to give you more specific statistics related to your stage of cancer. For example, 52 percent or around half of people diagnosed with early lung cancer live at least five years after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and spread (metastatic) in other areas of the body is 4 percent.
The overall survival rates do not indicate whether cancer survivors are still treated at five years or when they have become cancer free (achieved remission). Other types of survival rates that provide more accurate information include:
- Disease-free survival. This is the number of cancer patients who achieve remission. That means they no longer have any signs of cancer in the body.
- Progression-free survival. This is the number of people who still have cancer, but their disease is not progressing. This also applies to people who may have had success in the treatment, but the cancer has not completely disappeared.
The survival rates of cancer often use a survival rate of five years. This does not mean that cancer can not return for more than five years. Certain cancers can recur for many years after they are first discovered and treated. For some cancers, the likelihood of later recurrence is very low if it does not recur five years after the initial diagnosis. Discuss your risk of recurrence of cancer with your doctor.
How are cancer survival rates used?
You and your doctor could use survival statistics to:
understand your prognosis. The experiences of others in your same situation can give you and your doctor an idea of your prognosis – the chance that your cancer will be cured. Other factors are age and general health. Your doctor will use these factors to help you understand the severity of your condition.
Develop a treatment plan. The statistic can also show how individuals with the same type of cancer and stage respond to treatment. You can use this information with your treatment goals to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment option.
For example, if two treatments offer you similar remissions, but another has more side effects, you can choose the option with fewer side effects.
In another example, treatment may provide a chance of recovery, but only for 1 or 2 in 100 people. For some people, these opportunities are promising in order to accept side effects. For others, the chance of a cure is not worth the side effects of the treatment.
Your doctor can help you understand the benefits and risks of each treatment.
What can cancer survival rates tell you?
Cancer survival statistics can be frustrating. The survival rate for people with your particular cancer can refer to thousands of people. Although cancer survival rates can give a general idea of most people in your situation, they can not give your individual chances of recovery or cure. For this reason, some people ignore the statistics of the cancer survival rate.
Survival statistics do not take into account any other illnesses you have. If your health is otherwise perfect, you probably have a better chance of survival than the statistics suggest.
If you have other very significant illnesses, you may not have the chance of survival suggested by statistics. Your doctor may be able to help you to adjust the statistics to your specific situation.
Survival rates are subject to other restrictions. For example, they can not:
- Find out about the latest treatments. Individuals who were included in the latest cancer statistics were diagnosed more than five years ago. The effects of recent discoveries of treatment do not affect survival statistics for at least five years.
- Tell you which treatments you should choose. That's up to you and your doctor. For some people, the treatment with the highest remission probability is the one they will choose. However, many people take other factors such as side effects, costs and treatment plan into their decision.
Understanding the Numbers
Survival rates are usually expressed as a percentage. For example, the 5-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is 68 percent.
You may find it easier to understand the numbers in terms of people. For the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma example, the survival rate can be expressed as follows: every 100 people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma survive 68 at least five years after diagnosis. Conversely, 32 people die within five years of the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
If your doctor talks about statistics and does not understand you, ask for an explanation that makes sense. Ask questions if you need more information.
It's up to you and your doctor to interpret the numbers. Maybe you think a survival rate of 68 percent is positive, or you can intimidate fear when you think about your future. Your doctor can help you to bring the statistics into perspective and to understand your individual situation.
You can ignore the cancer survival rates.
It's up to you if you want to know the cancer survival rates associated with your type and stage. Since survival rates can not provide information about your situation, you may find the statistics impersonal and unhelpful. But some people want to know everything about their cancer. For this reason, you can know all the relevant statistics.
The more you know about the type, grade, and stage of cancer, the more accurately you can predict your risk. If you have a localized cancer and use statistics that many people with a common cancer include, this data may not apply to you.
Knowing more about your cancer can help reduce your anxiety as you analyze your options and start treatment, but survival statistics can be confusing and frightening. Tell your doctor if you do not want to pay attention to the numbers. Some people prefer to know the big picture, as detailed statistics. Tell your doctor how you prefer the information. And if you have questions or concerns about cancer statistics, contact your doctor.
Release date: 2005-05-27