Esophageal Cancer: Your Chances for Recovery (Prognosis)
What is a prognosis?
Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe 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 type and stage (extent) of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many years in other 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 prognosis depends mainly on:
The type and location of the cancer
The stage of the cancer
Your overall health
Your treatment decisions
How well your cancer responds to treatment
Understanding survival rates
Survival rates show what portion of 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 who are cancer-free
People who still have signs of cancer (These people may or may not be getting treatment for their cancer.)
What are the survival rates for esophageal cancer?
In general, the prognosis for people with esophageal cancer tends to be better if the cancer is caught early instead of at a later stage.
Here are the 5-year survival rates for esophageal cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute:
Overall, the 5-year survival rate for esophageal cancer is about 18 percent.
For people whose cancer is found before it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, the 5-year survival rate is about 40 percent.
The 5-year survival rate for cancer that has reached nearby organs or lymph nodes is about 22 percent.
Once esophageal cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is about 4 percent.
These numbers are adjusted to account for the fact that some people with esophageal cancer may die from other causes.
Talk with your healthcare provider
You can ask your healthcare 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.
March 21, 2017
Alteri, Rick, MD,Gersten, Todd, MD