Survival Rates For Cancer

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Cancer Survival Rates

What are survival rates?

Survival rates show the number of patients who are likely to still be living a certain number of months or years after diagnosis. They are usually expressed as a percentage i.e. the number of patients out of a 100 who are still alive.

How are survival rates worked out?

Studies are conducted that track cohorts of patients over months and often years. These are often linked to trials and research into effective treatments. There are also studies that combine results from many different research papers to provide a broader averaging of data. Other sources of data such as hospital admissions and death records may also be used.

Are survival rates accurate?

The accuracy of survival rates will depend on the availability of data that tracks patients after diagnosis and treatment. Research is often conducted by many different organisations across the world and there are often differences in the way data is collected and analysed. This can affect the conclusions reached. The nature of samples may also vary. For example, some hospitals may deal with only very complicated patients or those with very advanced metastatic cancer. These may give very different results.

Gathering and analysing data can take many years and so survival rates are always historical. Given that improvements in the detection and treatment of cancer and other medical advances such as pallative care are ongoing survivability is probably better than historically based survival rates might suggest.

Cancer can be described as a condition that affects the elderly. Though there are many children and younger adults affected by cancer the vast majority of people are diagnosed in later life. This can lead to an inaccurate distortion of survival rates. Survival rates often do not record anything other than the death of an individual with a particular cancer. The cause of death is unknown. For many elderly patients death may be a result of other diseases, conditions and accidents and have nothing to do with their cancer. This can lead to some cancers, particularly those diagnosed first in patients in their 80's and 90's, to appear more deadly than they actually are.

Are survival rates useful?

Survival rates can be useful indicators, particularly for those who need to assign funding and other resources to research and treatment. For the individual they may be less helpful and can be a source of increased anxiety. Each patient is unique and has their own unique expression of cancer. Though a patient's cancer may be broadly similar to others there can never be any real certainty about how that individual will be affected by their cancer, any treatments for it and the broader impacts that cancer can bring.

Your own survival rate calculator

Survival rates give the average number of patients expected to be alive after a set period of time. For example, Cancer X has a survival rate of 60% at 5 years. Your own survival rate may be higher or lower than this depending on a number of influencing factors or risks that make you different from the average. There are probably countless factors but some of the most obvious are age, how advanced your cancer is and other co-morbid health conditions that could affect your ability to undergo treatment. In addition your own personal resilence factors, described below, will also affect your long term outcomes.

Survival Rates


If you are aged 90 your survival rate could be much lower than 60% such as 25%. If you are diagnosed at a young age say 40 then your survival rate could be much higher e.g 95%

Cancer Stage

A survival rate is often based on all patients diagnosed with a particular cancer. However, a patient with localised cancer will have a higher probability of survival than a patient with cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer Before Diagnosis

Survival rates are based on time from diagnosis. Patients will naturally vary in the amount of time that they have had cancer before it is diagnosed. A few weeks may not be very significant but months or even years must affect the likelihood of successful treatment and recovery.

Individual Resilience Factors

Survivability is not just about the severity of the cancer or the talents of the teams of professionals who treat and otherwise support you. In addition, there are a large number of factors that help determine whether an individual will survive. This will include your general health, mental well-being, social and emotional support network, economic stability, spiritual or non-spiritual convictions and determination to overcome the illness. This last factor can also be described as having a positive mental attitude where inevitable negative thoughts and feelings about the illness and prognosis are kept in check by optimism and gratitude for the advancements in diagnosis, treatment and outcomes.

Stephen Norwood