What do cancer survival rates mean?

Knowing about survival rates can give you a general idea about how long other survivors with your type of cancer have lived. Yet, your experience may be very different. Survival rates are only estimates. Many survivors prove them wrong.

Survival estimates are based on the experiences of survivors in studies done during and after treatment. There is no way of knowing how estimates will apply to your situation. Your treatment may be very different from the method used many years ago in a study. Medications may have changed. There may be new ways of doing radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

The life expectancy for a specific type of cancer is often reported as a five-year survival rate. This does not mean that survivors do not live more than five years. Some studies only follow up with survivors for that long. In addition, the concern about cancer recurring generally lessens after five years.

Survival rates are usually stated as a percentage. A doctor might say, "People with this type of cancer generally have a 60%  five-year survival rate." This means that 60 out of 100 people who were treated for this type of cancer during the research studies were still living after five years. Cancer survivors often live much longer than these estimates. Every cancer survivor is different. Most importantly, you are not a statistic!

Continue Learning about Cancer Survivorship

Cancer Plan for a Nation of Cancer Survivors
Cancer Plan for a Nation of Cancer Survivors
If you’re among the 15.5 million Americans who’ve survived cancer, at some point you’ve wondered, “What’s next for me?” Living beyond this disease is ...
Read More
Should breast cancer survivors avoid foods containing phytoestrogens?
Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplement if you are a breast cancer surv...
More Answers
Can breast cancer survivors use post-menopausal hormone therapy?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
Almost all breast cancers are classified as to whether they're estrogen-receptor positive or estrog...
More Answers
What Are the Most Important Advances in Cancer Treatment?
What Are the Most Important Advances in Cancer Treatment?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.