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Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL): Prognosis

What is a prognosis?

Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your likely outcome from your leukemia and its treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. It’s a question many people have when they learn they have cancer.

Making a choice

The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to know. Some people find it easier to cope and plan ahead when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think statistics are too general to be useful.

A doctor who is most familiar with your health is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean in your case. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis can change. Cancer and cancer treatment outcomes are hard to predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis (which means you’re likely going to do well) can change if the CLL keeps growing or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can happen if treatment controls the CLL so it doesn’t grow more.

What goes into a prognosis

When figuring out your prognosis, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. Your doctor will look at risk estimates about the exact type and stage of CLL you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over decades in many people with the same type of CLL.

If your CLL is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If your leukemia is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The leukemia may shorten your life. It’s important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what’s likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely happen. No doctor can be fully certain about an outcome.

Your prognosis depends mainly on:

  • The type of leukemia

  • Your age and overall health

  • How well your leukemia responds to treatment

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates show how many people live for a certain length of time after being told they have cancer. Most often, the numbers used refer to the 5-year or the 10-year survival rate. That’s how many people live at least 5 or 10 years after being diagnosed. 

A survival rate is not necessarily the same as a cure rate. CLL tends to grow slowly. Most people live many years after being diagnosed. But this type of leukemia is often very hard to cure.  

What are the survival rates for CLL?

The relative 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with CLL is 82%. This number is adjusted for the fact that some people with CLL will die from causes other than CLL.  

This number is based on people who were diagnosed between 2005 and 2011. But newer treatments for CLL have become available in recent years. The prognosis for people diagnosed with CLL now may be better.  

Talking with your healthcare provider 

You can ask your healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They can’t be used to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.



Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Last Review Date: 10/1/2015
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