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Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your chances of recovering from cancer. Or it may mean your likely outcome from cancer and cancer treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. It’s a question many people have when they learn they have cancer.
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 healthcare provider 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 cancer spreads to key organs or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn’t grow or spread.
When figuring out your prognosis, your healthcare provider will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. He or she will look at risk estimates about the exact type and stage of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many years in thousands of people with the same type and stage of cancer.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your healthcare provider will say you have a favorable prognosis. This means you’re expected to live many years and may even be cured. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The cancer 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 healthcare provider can be fully certain about an outcome.
Your prognosis depends mainly on:
The type and location of the cancer
The stage of the cancer
Your overall health
Your treatment decisions
Survival rates show how many people live for a certain length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain types and stages of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the 5-year or the 10-year survival rate. That’s how many people are living 5 years or 10 years after diagnosis. The survival rate includes people at these different stages:
People who are cancer-free or cured
People who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer
People who are getting cancer treatment
The American Cancer Society uses the following relative 5-year survival rates:
If the cancer is only in the vulva and has not spread to lymph nodes or nearby tissues, the 5-year survival rate is 86%.
If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues, but has not spread to distant organs, the 5-year survival rate is 54%.
If the cancer has spread to distant organs or tissues (metastasized), the 5-year survival rate is 16%.
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 cannot be used to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.
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