What is the 5-year cancer survival rate?

Cancer survival rates tell you the proportion of people who continue to live after being diagnosed with a certain type of cancer for a particular amount of time. These cancer survival statistics generally use a five-year survival rate.

Statistics usually express survival rates in percentages. For example, the average five-year survival rate for bladder cancer is 77 percent. It means that out of 100 people who suffer from bladder cancer, 77 live for five years after diagnosis.

The cancer death rate of bladder cancer will, therefore, be expressed as: 23 percent of bladder cancer patients will die within five years after being diagnosed.

Survival rates vary with different types of cancer and range from 98% for testicular cancer to just 1% for pancreatic cancer. In most of the commonly diagnosed cancers, 50% or more of the diagnosed patients survive for ten years or more.

A patient who is living disease-free for one year or more with limited metastasis will have a better prognosis than a patient who is disease-free for less than one year and has widespread metastasis in which the cancer cells spread to distant parts of the body away from the primary tumor.

Metastasis to the bone or pleura is not immediately life-threatening. However, metastasis to the liver, lung, or brain spells a bad prognosis and considerably reduces the patient’s life expectancy.

A patient with liver and lung metastasis will live for less than six months. A patient with widespread metastasis or with metastasis to the lymph nodes has a life expectancy of fewer than six weeks.

The life expectancy of a patient with metastasis to the brain will vary from one to 16 months depending on the number of metastases and their location and the response to treatment.

A patient who is sedentary for half of the time he is awake and is becoming increasingly dependent on others may not live beyond two to three months

An estimated survival rate over 5 years forms the benchmark for the doctor to declare the prognosis of the disease in a patient.

Factors that influence cancer survival

Many factors influence a person’s survival period after being diagnosed with cancer. These factors include:

  • Type of cancer
  • The stage at which it is detected
  • General health status of the individual
  • The local and national healthcare system, local cancer screening policies, and treatments available

However, in general, survival rates improve on early detection and prompt treatment.

Secondly, diet, nutrition, physical activity, and a healthy lifestyle significantly offer better outcomes after a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer is curable when it is still localized and treated by surgery. However, the recurrence of cancer after a presumably successful surgery led the scientists to realize that it is not proper to declare the results before a minimal five years have elapsed. Recurrences during the five-year period are fairly common.

Common cancers and their stage-wise survival rates

Some doctors rely on declaring survival rates in a more detailed manner based on a staging system called tumor, nodes, and metastasis (TNM).

  • Stage 1 cancer is localized.
  • Stage 2 and 3 cancer is regional
  • Stage 4 cancer is cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body.

The stage-wise survival rates for patients with some of the most common forms of cancers include the following:

Breast cancer survival rates

The American Cancer Society estimates the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that has spread to distant body parts (stage 4 cancer) is 27%.

  • The 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with localized breast cancer is about 99 percent. These are women whose cancer is localized to the breast and not spread outside its boundaries. This type of cancer belongs to stage one.
  • For women who are diagnosed with regional breast cancer, that figure drops to about 86 percent. Regional cancer is cancer that has spread outside the breast but only to the neighboring lymph nodes and is classified as stages two and three.
  • Women who are diagnosed with distant breast cancer (metastasis) have about 27 percent likelihood of surviving for 5 years. In distant cancer, the cancer cells have spread to the distant parts of the body such as the liver, lungs, and bones. This cancer belongs to stage 4.

According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the 5-year relative survival rate has doubled from 18% to 36% in women (aged 15 to 49 years) diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer between the periods 1992–1994 and 2005–2012 respectively.

Lung cancer survival rates

According to the American Cancer Society, the average 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body is 6%. For small cell lung cancer with metastasis, the survival rate is 3%.

The 5-year survival rates for people diagnosed with non-small lung cancer between 2010 and 2016 are as follows:

  • Localized – 63%
  • Regional – 35%
  • Distant spread – 7%
  • Overall – 25%

The survival rates for people with small cell lung  cancer:

  • Localized – 27%
  • Regional -16%
  • Distant – 3%
  • Overall – 7%

Survival rates for colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectal areas and can be treated with a good prognosis if detected and treated early. The 5-year survival rates vary and depend on the stage at which treatment is given.

The figures below are based on studies conducted between 2010 and 2016

For colon cancer

  • Stage 1 (localized) – 5-year survival rate is 91%
  • Stage 2 ( invaded neighboring tissues)  – 5-year survival rate is 72%
  • Stage 3 (distant metastasis) – 5-year survival rate is 14%
  •  On the whole ——————-5-year survival rate is 63%

For rectal cancer

  • Stage one – 89%
  • Stage two –72%
  • Stage three – 16%
  • On the whole – 67%

Survival rates for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer (cancer of the prostate gland) is the most common type of cancer among men in the United States and is also one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths. If this cancer undergoes metastasis, the 5-year survival rate is 31%.

Around 1 in 9 males, in the U.S., will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. However, only 1 in 41 of those diagnosed will die from it.

The 5-year survival rates for prostate cancer according to their stages is as follows:

  • Stage 1: Localized – almost 100%
  • Stage 2: Regional – 100%
  • Stage 3: Distant metastasis – 30%
  • Overall ——- 98%

Survival rates of common cancers without treatment

One interesting aspect that emerged during clinical studies was that there existed long-term cancer survivors who refused treatment. This was encountered in some types of neoplastic disease

These are the results of studies on patients with cancers who did not take treatment.

Breast cancer survival without treatment

Three sets of data were in agreement about survival rates in breast cancer patients who did not take treatment.

They were

  • Greenwood 2 in 1926
  • Forber 3 in England, and
  • Nathanson and Welch4-7 in Massachusetts

They showed that 20 percent of breast cancer patients who did not take treatment were alive for five years or more.

Chronic leukemia and lymphoma survival without treatment

Without treatment. approximately 15 percent of the untreated individuals with chronic leukemia and lymphoma survived five years, and almost five percent were alive as long as 10 years after onset.

Cancer of the bladder, prostate, and rectum survival

Five to ten percent of patients with cancer of the bladder, prostate, and rectum can be expected to live for five years or longer without treatment.

Cancers of the cervix, buccal cavity, and stomach

A small proportion of patients with untreated cancers of the cervix, buccal cavity, and stomach survive for more than five years with no treatment.

Cancer survival rates with treatment

The overall 5-year survival rates have improved over past decades and this appears more likely due to better treatment options being given to a larger proportion of patients.

The rates have shown a significant progressive increase for both males and females patients. The improvement was seen more in patients with localized cancer.

Let us look at the five-year survival rates for adult people in England who were diagnosed with one of the most common cancers between 2014 to 2018 and 2019.

Here we look at the five-year net survival estimates for adults (aged 15-99 years) in England diagnosed with one of the 27 most common cancers between 2014 and 2018 and followed up to 2019.

The highest five-year survival figures were seen in patients with testicular cancer (97%), skin melanoma (92.3%), and prostate cancer (88%).

Mesothelioma (7.2%), pancreatic cancer (7.3%), and brain cancer (12.8%) exhibited the lowest five-year survival estimates.


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