When diagnosed with cancer, the most common question people generally ask is about their prognosis. It’s likely that you would want to know if a cure for your cancer will be easy to come by or will be relatively more difficult. Your doctor may not be able to predict the future, but you can get an estimate based on the medical history of other individuals diagnosed with the same type of cancer.

It’s your decision whether you want to learn more about the survival rates pertaining to your cancer. The statistical data can be confusing and alarming.

Defining cancer survival rates

Expressed in percentage terms, overall cancer survival rates depict the total number of individuals who survive a particular form of cancer for a specific period of time. Generally, a five-year survival rate is used as a yardstick. For instance, the overall survival rate for prostate cancer is 98 % (based on a five-year term). It implies that out of the every 100 individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer, 98 manage to survive 5 years after the diagnosis was made. It also implies that 2 individuals die within five years out of every 100 diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Survival rates of cancer are ascertained through research based on information derived from hundreds or thousands of individuals diagnosed with cancer. Individuals belonging to all age groups and with varying health conditions are included for ascertaining an overall survival rate. This also includes individuals who were diagnosed early and those with a late diagnosis.

Based on the stage of cancer, your doctor can provide you with more specific statistics. For example, 49 percent or about half of those diagnosed in the early stages of lung cancer, live a minimum of 5 years after diagnosis. For individuals whose lung cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is 3 percent.

However, overall cancer survival rates do not indicate whether cancer survivors may still be receiving treatment or if their cancer has been cured completely (achieved remission). More specific information can be obtained from some other types of cancer survival rates such as:

  • Disease-free survival rate: Indicates the total number of cancer patients who achieve remission. It implies that there are no visible signs of cancer in these people.
  • Progression-free survival rate: Indicates the total number of individuals with cancer, whose disease is not progressing. This may include individuals who may have had experienced some success with cancer treatment, but still their cancer exists.

What are the practical uses of cancer survival rates?

You and your doctor can use cancer survival rates to:

  • Learn about your prognosis: The medical history of other individuals diagnosed with the same type of cancer can provide you and your doctor more specifics about your prognosis (the possibility of achieving remission). Your doctor may also include other factors such as your overall health and age to help you understand the gravity of your specific condition.
  • Select a treatment plan: Statistical data can also indicate how individuals with a similar condition respond to cancer treatment. Using this information in addition to your own individual goals for treatment, you can find out the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment option. For example, if two treatment plans offer equal chances of achieving remission, but have varying side affects, you can select the treatment plan having fewer side-effects.

What is not revealed through cancer survival rates?

At times, cancer survival rates can be annoying since they cannot provide specific information about you. The rate of survival associated with a particular type of cancer may be based on information sourced from thousands of people. You may get a general idea about most individuals with a similar condition, but it will be difficult to point out your individual chances of achieving remission. Since this can be disappointing, some individuals choose to disregard statistics related to cancer survival rates.

Cancer survival statistics do not factor in details such as your medical condition. For instance, if you otherwise have good health, you will have more chances to survive than what the statistics might indicate. Conversely, if you have other serious medical conditions, your chances of survival may be less than statistical numbers. However, your doctor can provide more accurate approximations based on your specific condition.

There are also other limitations associated with survival rates. For example, they may not:

  • Provide information about the most recent treatments: The existing cancer statistics are based on information gathered from cancer patients who were diagnosed at least five years earlier. It implies that new treatment discoveries will not effect any changes in the survival rates for a minimum of five years.
  • Tell you about what treatment plans to select: This depends entirely on your individual decisions and that of your doctor. Some patients may choose treatments offering the highest chances of achieving remission whereas other may make their selection based on factors such as treatment schedule and associated side effects.