What is a prognosis?
Prognosis is the word your health care team may use to describe your chances
of recovering from cancer. Or it may mean your likely outcome from cancer
and cancer treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. It's a question
many people have when they learn they have cancer.
Making a choice
The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It's up
to you to decide how much you want to know. Some people find it easier
to cope and plan ahead when they know their prognosis and the statistics
for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistics confusing
and frightening. Or they might think statistics are too general to be useful.
A doctor who is most familiar with your health is in the best position
to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may
mean in your case. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your
prognosis can change. Cancer and cancer treatment outcomes are hard to
predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis (which means you're likely
going to do well) can change if the cancer spreads to key organs or doesn't
respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can
happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn't
grow or spread.
What goes into a prognosis
When figuring out your prognosis, your doctor will consider all the things
that could affect the cancer and its treatment. Your doctor will look
at risk estimates about the exact type and stage of the cancer you have.
These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many
years in thousands of people with the same type and stage of cancer.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will
say you have a favorable prognosis. This means you're expected to
live many years and may even be cured. If your cancer is likely to be
hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The cancer may
shorten your life. It's important to keep in mind that a prognosis
states what's likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will
definitely happen. No doctor can be fully certain about an outcome.
Your chance of recovery depends on:
Understanding survival rates
Survival rates show how many people live for a certain length of time after
being told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain
types and stages of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the
5-year or the 10-year survival rate. That's how many people are living
5 years or 10 years after diagnosis. The survival rate includes people
at these different stages:
People who are cancer-free or cured
People who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer
People who are getting cancer treatment
Talking with your health care provider
You can ask your health care provider about survival rates and what you
might expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of
people. They cannot be used to say what will happen to you. No two people
are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.