Survival statistics for brain and spinal cord cancer are very general estimates and must be interpreted very carefully. Because these statistics are based on the experience of groups of people, they cannot be used to predict a particular person’s chances of survival.
There are many different ways to measure and report cancer survival statistics. Your doctor can explain the statistics for brain and spinal cord cancer and what they mean to you.
Statistics are not always available for all types of brain and spinal cord tumours, often because they are rare or hard to classify.
Relative survival looks at how likely people with cancer are to survive after their diagnosis compared to people in the general population who do not have cancer, but who share similar characteristics (such as age and sex).
In Canada, a 5-year relative survival statistic is reported for brain cancer. The 5-year relative survival for brain cancer is 25%. This means that, on average, people diagnosed with brain cancer are 25% as likely to live 5 years after their diagnosis as people in the general population.
Spinal cord cancer
In Canada, a separate 5-year relative survival statistic is not reported for spinal cord cancer, but is included in the general category, other central nervous system cancers. This broad category includes similar cancers that are grouped and reported together. This statistic does not necessarily reflect the actual survival for the individual cancers within the group. The 5-year relative survival for all other central nervous system cancers is 63%. This means that, on average, people diagnosed with other central nervous system cancers are 63% as likely to live 5 years after their diagnosis as people in the general population.
Brain tumour survival may be reported as median survival statistics. Median survival is the period of time (usually months or years) at which half of the people with cancer are still alive. The other half will live less than this amount of time.
Survival by prognostic factors
Survival varies with each grade and particular type or subtype of brain and spinal cord cancer. The following factors can also affect survival for brain and spinal cord cancer. However, survival rates for brain tumours will vary widely, depending on the type of tumour, its grade and the location in the brain.
- Low-grade tumours have a more favourable prognosis than high-grade tumours.
- People younger than 65 years of age have a more favourable prognosis.
- People with a better performance status and neurological status have a more favourable prognosis.
- Tumours that can be surgically removed have a more favourable prognosis than tumours that can be partially removed or not removed.
- Tumours that are in parts of the brain where they cannot be easily removed by surgery have lower survival rates.
Survival statistics for gliomas
The numbers given below are the most current statistics available. However, they represent people who were diagnosed and treated many years ago. Improvements in treatment since then means that for people being diagnosed now, the survival rates may be higher.
greater than 90%
ependymoma (grade I and II) and
anaplastic ependymoma (grade III)
Survival rates for those 65 or older are usually lower.
Survival statistics for other brain and spinal cord tumours
- mixed glioma
- Oligoastrocytomas (grade II) and anaplastic oligoastrocytomas (grade III) have prognoses similar to the same grades of astrocytomas.
- meningioma (grade I) – About 80% of people remain progression-free 10 years after their diagnosis.
- atypical meningioma (grade II) – About 35% of people remain progression-free 10 years after their diagnosis.
- anaplastic or malignant meningioma (grade III) – These tumours have a median survival of less than 2 years.
- primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL)
- The median progression-free survival is approximately 12.8 months with chemotherapy alone and up to 5 years with combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- brain metastases and spinal cord metastases
- Median survival ranges from 7–24 weeks.
- Survival varies depending on the site of the primary cancer.
Questions about survival
People with cancer should talk to their doctor about their prognosis. Prognosis depends on many factors, including:
- a person’s medical history
- type of cancer
- characteristics of the cancer
- treatments chosen
- response to treatment
Only a doctor familiar with these factors can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.