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Prognosis and survival

A prognosis is the doctor’s best estimate of how cancer will affect someone. Many factors can affect a person’s prognosis. Survival statistics are one tool that doctors use to develop a prognosis for a person with cancer. Doctors often look at studies that measure survival for a particular type of cancer, stage or risk group.

There are different types of cancer survival statistics and different ways to measure and report survival. In general, survival is used to estimate the percentage of people with cancer who will live at least a certain amount of time (such as 1, 3, 5 or 10 years) after their diagnosis.

Five-year survival

Five-year survival is often used when talking about prognosis and survival.

  • It measures the effect of the cancer over a 5-year period. This number is used to give a sense of the percentage of people, on average, who are alive 5 years after their cancer diagnosis – whether they are disease-free, in remissionremissionA decrease in or the disappearance of signs and symptoms of a disease (such as cancer). or still having treatment.
  • The 5-year survival rate does not mean that the person is only going to live 5 years. People can live much longer, especially when their cancer is detected and treated early. Survival rates are different depending on the type of cancer.

Factors affecting cancer survival statistics

Keep in mind that cancer survival statistics:

  • are very general estimates
  • can vary widely by the stage of cancer
  • are based on large numbers of people with cancer and cannot predict exactly what will happen to a particular person
  • are based on data that may be several years old and therefore may not show the impact of recent advances in treatment or finding cancer early
  • may not account for other illnesses, different responses to treatment or dying from causes other than cancer

Questions about survival

Talk to your doctor about your prognosis. A prognosis depends on many factors, including:

  • your health history
  • the type of cancer
  • the stage
  • certain characteristics of the cancer
  • the treatments chosen
  • how the cancer responds to treatment

Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis. Ask your doctor about the factors that affect your prognosis and what they mean for you.


Stephanie Hermsen Thanks to the incredible progress in retinoblastoma research made possible by Canadian Cancer Society funding, my son won’t have to go through what I did.

Read Stephanie's story

Great progress has been made

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Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.

Learn more