Factors that Influence Your Cancer Prognosis

Mar 23, 2016

Factors that Influence Your Cancer Prognosis

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Understanding Your Cancer Prognosis

Cancer is a scary thing and getting a prognosis from your doctor can make it feel real and overwhelming. When you go over your cancer prognosis with your doctor, you are reviewing the likely course and outcomes of the disease and the chance of recovery or reoccurrence. It is a prediction or educated guess based off statistics, your general health, age, type, location, stage, grade, your response to treatment, and any other relevant factors. A cancer prognosis can be difficult to understand, but statistics and a helpful doctor can hopefully make it less difficult.

Types of Cancer Statistics

Cancer statistics are one of the most common methods that doctors use to formulate your prognosis, and there are multiple variations that can be applied to your specific case. A few of the most common statistics that help with prognosis are:

  1. Cancer specific survival rate - This is the survival rate of patients with a specific type of cancer during a time period after their diagnosis. The time period can be different lengths but 5 years is the most common. Usually, the rate is based off the cause of death that is listed in the medical record.
  2. Relative survival rate - This is a statistic for cancer specific survival as well, but uses the percentage of patients who have survived for a certain time period, instead of using their cause of death, after their diagnosis and is compared to people who do not have cancer.
  3. Overall survival rate - The overall survival rate is for people with a specific type and stage of cancer. It measures who has not died, due to any cause, for a certain time period after their cancer diagnosis.
  4. Disease-free survival rate - This statistic is about people who show no signs of cancer during a specific time period. They have reached remission. If cancer is going to reoccur, it usually appears within 5 years, so being cancer free for that amount of time is a milestone. Saying that you are cured is difficult though because cancerous cells can still exist in your body even if you do not technically have cancer.
  5. Progression-free survival rate - This is the rate of people that, while they still have cancer, the disease is not progressing and is measured over a specific time period. While you still have cancer, it is not getting worse.

Sometimes, understanding how these survival rates work can be a little confusing. As an example, if the cancer specific survival rate for lung cancer is 42% after 5 years, that means that for every 100 people with lung cancer, 42 are living 5 years after being diagnosed and 58 have died in that time.

Cancer statistics are a huge part of understanding your cancer prognosis, but they may not reflect your exact situation. As listed above, there are numerous other factors that your doctor takes into account when determining your prognosis. The statistics may not reflect your situation at all, so it is fine if you don’t want to know the specifics of them. They are usually based off of older information from 5 years ago, so the statistics do not reflect any new treatments or advancements that have been made in that time. If you are thinking about opting out of treatment, there is minimal information available for you because the statistics are usually used to compare different treatment options. In general, the information can sometimes just make you confused and frustrated especially if they do not reflect your specific situation.

On the other hand, they can be very helpful for some people. They can give you a more thorough understanding of the disease and your options for treatment. They can also give you information about your life expectancy and potential side effects. Having the most amount of information possible about your cancer can make planning for the future a little less challenging. If you know what to expect, whatever comes next can be less scary because you are prepared.

It is important to remember that there are no two people who are exactly alike with the same background, health, influences, etc. While the cancer statistics can be very helpful in understanding your cancer prognosis, there is much more to consider. A doctor that you have been working closely with should be able to give you the most accurate prognosis possible.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Gastrointestinal cancer is a broad term used to encompass all cancers of the gastrointestinal tract (digestive system). This includes cancers of the esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, bowel, and other areas.

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If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of any type of cancer seek help from a doctor immediately.

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