A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound hard to ask, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most men have when they learn they have prostate cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.
Your chance of recovery depends on these things:
Type and location of the cancer
Stage of the disease
How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread
Your general health
How your cancer responds to treatment
Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of men with prostate cancer. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of men whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It is important to keep in mind, though, that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.
Some people find it easier to cope when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistical information confusing and frightening. Or they might think it is too general to be useful. The doctor who is most familiar with your situation is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It is up to you to decide how much you want to know.
Survival rates show the percentage of men who live for a specific length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are specific to men with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often, statistics refer to the five-year survival rate. That’s the percentage of men who are living five years after diagnosis. The five-year rate includes men who:
Are free of disease
Have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer
Are being treated for cancer
Most men with prostate cancer live much longer than five years after diagnosis. Because the statistics we have for five-year rates are based on men diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be better today. Recently diagnosed men often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment.
Survival rates are based on large groups of men. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular man. No two men are exactly alike, and treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.
The prognosis for men diagnosed with prostate cancer before it has spread is excellent. These are the most recent statistics, according to the National Cancer Institute:
The five-year relative survival rate for cancer that is still confined to the prostate is nearly 100 percent.
The five-year relative survival rate for cancer that has grown just outside the prostate or has reached nearby lymph nodes is nearly 100 percent.
The five-year relative survival rate for cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is about 28 percent.
The five-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer for all men combined is higher than 99 percent. This is largely because most prostate cancers are found at an early stage.
These survival rates are adjusted to account for the fact that some men with prostate cancer will die of other causes.