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A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound hard to ask, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most people ask when they learn they have stomach cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.
Your chance of recovery depends on these things:
The type and location of the cancer
The stage of the disease
How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread
Your general health
How your cancer responds to treatment
Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with cancer. When possible, the doctor will make a prediction using statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.
Some people find it easier to cope when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment may work. Other people find statistical information confusing and frightening. Others may think it is too general to be useful. The doctor who is most familiar with your situation is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to know.
Survival rates show the percentage of people who live for a specific length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are specific to those with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often, statistics refer to the five-year survival rate. That’s the percentage of people who are living five years after diagnosis. The five-year survival rate includes people who are alive and in any of these three groups:
Are free of disease
Have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer
Are still being treated for cancer
Because the statistics we have for five-year survival rates are based on people diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be better today. Recently diagnosed people often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment.
Here are the five-year relative survival rates for stomach cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
If doctors find the stomach cancer in early stages when the cancer is still only in the stomach, the five-year survival rate is about 63%.
If doctors find the stomach cancer when it has spread to areas near the stomach or to nearby lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is about 28%.
If doctors find the stomach cancer when it has spread far away from the stomach, the five-year survival rate is about 4%.
For all stages of stomach cancer combined, the five-year survival rate is about 28%.
These survival rates are adjusted to account for the fact that some people may die of causes other than stomach cancer.
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