Can I Survive Breast Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?

It may sound harsh to ask the question "Can I survive this?" But it's a question on most people's mind when they are facing a diagnosis of breast cancer. And the answer can be just as hard as asking the question.

Your chance of recovery depends on a number of things.

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • Its stage

  • How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age and general health

  • How you respond to treatment

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor carefully considers all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then try to predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, he or she will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with cancer. When possible, the doctor uses statistics based on groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say that 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 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 and to 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.

What Does the Five-Year Survival Rate Mean?

Survival rates show the percentage of people with a certain type and stage of cancer who survive the disease for a certain period of time after they are diagnosed. A five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are alive five years after they are diagnosed. These are the people it includes.

  • Those who are free of disease

  • Those who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • Those who are having treatment for cancer

Many people included in the 5-year rate live much longer than five years after diagnosis. Also, because the statistic is based on people diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it's possible the outlook could be better today. People who are more recently diagnosed often have a more favorable outlook. That's because of changes in the way cancer is treated.

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular person. No two patients are exactly the same. Treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.

What Are the Treatment Statistics for People With Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a very treatable disease if you're diagnosed early. How long you live depends on the stage at which it's found. These are some of the statistics about the five-year survival rate for breast cancer.

  • The five-year survival rate for stage I breast cancer, meaning the tumor is small and contained within the breast, is 100 percent.

  • The five-year survival rate for stage IIA breast cancer, meaning the tumor is small but affects the lymph nodes or is a little larger with no lymph nodes involved, is 86 percent.

  • The five-year survival rate for stage IIIA breast cancer, meaning the tumor may have spread to lymph nodes and/or nearby tissues, is 57 percent.

  • The five-year survival rate for stage IV breast cancer, meaning the cancer has spread to other organs, is 20 percent.

Connect with MLH

New Appointments

 Well Ahead Newsletter


Copyright 2014 Main Line Health

Printed from:

The information provided in this Web site is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. All medical information presented should be discussed with your healthcare professional. See additional Terms of Use at For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.