Cancer Survival Rate and How It's Calculated

12 October, 2020
When facing a cancer diagnosis, doctors often can't predict what will come in the future. However, thanks to the survival rate, one can make some estimates using the experiences of other patients with the same disease.

When a person faces a cancer diagnosis, the first questions that come to mind are “What is my chance of surviving this cancer?” or “How much time do I have left to live?”. One of the tools that we can use to answer these and other questions from patients with this disease is the cancer survival rate.

The Mayo Clinic details on their website that, while doctors cannot predict the future after a diagnosis of cancer, he or she can make an educated estimate based on the experiences of other patients who have already gone through the process. Would you like to know more about this? Keep on reading!

What’s the cancer survival rate?

The Cancer Survival Index is a medical statistical analysis that estimates how likely a person with cancer is to survive. Usually, experts calculate the survival rate at 1, 2, and 5 years after a cancer diagnosis.

In other words, it’s an analysis that tries to estimate how many people out of all those who have a cancer diagnosis manage to survive a certain period of time. It’s important to mention that we shouldn’t confuse this estimate with the survival rate of the disease or the rate of progression.

These statistics usually go together with the survival rate, but don’t provide the same information. Thus, it’s something that all patients must take into account in order to not misinterpret things.

Cancer survival rates help plan your treatment.
The cancer survival rate lets professionals know how long patients can survive after the disease is diagnosed.

Also read: How the Immune System Fights Cancer

How to calculate the cancer survival rate

You calculate the cancer survival rate by using the information found in scientific studies for each type of cancer. Thousands of people worldwide participate in these studies. These people are put in observation during a certain period, in which scientists monitor their evolution and the time that passes until their deaths.

In order to do this analysis on a particular type of cancer, you should consider:

  • The type of cancer
  • The stage of cancer
  • The patient’s age
  • The time since diagnosis

We must mention that these statistics don’t take into account other medical conditions that the patient may have. Therefore, if the patient doesn’t have other diseases, it’s likely that they have a better chance of survival than the statistics suggest.

What’s the cancer survival rate used for?

How to use the cancer survival rate.
The information that the cancer survival rate provides allows doctors to guide their patients on the severity of their disease.

The survival index is usually shown in percentages. For example, the odds of 5-years of survival after a diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer for 50-year-old women is 97%.

This means that generally speaking, 97 out of every 100 50-year-old women with an early-stage breast cancer diagnosis will be alive 5 years after their diagnosis.

This information is useful, helping the doctor explain to the patient the severity of their illness. Also, it can assist both the patient and the doctor in making treatment decisions.

In some cases, the probability of surviving cancer doesn’t justify the side effects or the cost of the treatment that the patient must undergo.

Be sure to visit: How Cancer Develops: A Detailed Explanation

Survival rate calculators

Currently, there are tools that aim to simplify this information for patients and health professionals. For example, different online survival calculators are available.

Through these, a person can enter the data corresponding to the diagnosis and automatically will obtain their survival rate. These resources are generally available in English.

What should be clear to us on this topic?

The data estimated in the cancer survival rate is valuable information for both doctors and patients diagnosed with this disease. We must make it clear that such information isn’t the same as the survival or progression rate. Although these numbers are usually given at the same time, they refer to different things.

On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that survival data is also necessary for making treatment decisions. In many cases, perhaps, the chances of survival justify the costs and side effects of treatment.

  • Siegel, R. L., Miller, K. D., & Jemal, A. (2019). Cancer statistics, 2019. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians69(1), 7–34. https://doi.org/10.3322/caac.21551
  • Cancer Research UK (n.d.).  Cancer survival statistics, Cancer Research UK. Available in https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/survival
  • Zadnik V, Žagar T, Žakelj MP. Cancer Patients’ Survival: Standard Calculation Methods And Some Considerations Regarding Their Interpretation: POPULACIJSKO PREŽIVETJE BOLNIKOV Z RAKOM: UPORABA RAZLIČNIH PRISTOPOV IN PROBLEMI INTERPRETACIJE REZULTATOV. Zdr Varst. 2016;55(2):134–141. Published 2016 Feb 11. doi:10.1515/sjph-2016-0012