What Does Surviving Cancer Mean
Google surviving and youll likely find this definition: Continuing to live or exist, especially in the face of hardship.
Through my own cancer battles and in talking with those impacted by cancer, Ive found that this word means many things to many people. When I asked what surviving means within the medical community, my doctor said surviving cancer meant:
- Youre still alive.
- Youre going through the steps from diagnosis to treatment.
- You have multiple options with the expectations of positive results.
- Youre striving for a cure.
- You arent expected to die.
When speaking with fellow cancer warriors in my many times in the hospital waiting room, I found that they often had a different definition of what it meant to survive. To many, it simply meant:
- waking up each day
- being able to get out of bed
- completing activities of daily living
- eating and drinking without vomiting
Ive talked with hundreds of people undergoing treatment over the past 40 years in my journey with different bouts of cancer. The severity and type of cancer aside, Ive found that my survival has also depended on factors beyond the disease itself, including:
- my treatments
- my relationship with my doctor
- my relationship with the rest of the medical team
- my quality of life outside of my medical conditions
Many people over the years have told me that surviving simply means not dying. Many said they never considered there was anything else to consider.
Surviving Stage 4 Breast Cancer: Is It Possible
Understanding survival rates of stage 4 breast cancer
According to the National Cancer Institute , an estimated 27 percent of people in the United States live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
Many factors can affect your longevity and quality of life. Different subtypes of breast cancer behave differently. Some are more aggressive than others, and some have far fewer treatment options than others. For this reason, your subtype may affect your outlook.
Higher survival rates are also associated with the extent and location of metastasis. In other words, your long-term outlook may be better if your cancer has only spread to your bones than if its found in your bones and lungs.
Immediately seeking treatment, like chemotherapy, surgery, or hormone therapy, can help improve your outlook. Making healthy lifestyle choices might also improve your chances of survival.
What Is The Chance I Could Die In The Next 5 Years
The average 5-year survival rate for all people with breast cancer is 89%. The 10-year rate is 83%, and the 15-year rate is 78%. If the cancer is located only in the breast , the 5-year survival rate is 99%. More than 70% of breast cancers are diagnosed at an Early Stage.
All survival statistics are primarily based on the stage of breast cancer when diagnosed. Some of the other important factors are also listed below that affect survival.
Stage 0;breast cancer can be also described as a pre-cancer. If you have DCIS you can be quite confident you will do well. DCIS does not spread to other organs. What can be concerning is when an invasive cancer grows back in the area of a prior lumpectomy for DCIS. This type of local recurrence does carry a risk to your life. Luckily, this does not happen frequently. Also, be aware that those who have had DCIS in the past are at a higher risk for developing an entirely new, invasive breast cancer. Take our video lesson on Non-Invasive DCIS to learn more.
Stage I;invasive breast cancer has an excellent survival rate. The chance of dying of Stage I breast cancer within five years of diagnosis is 1 to 5% if you pursue recommended treatments.
Stage II breast cancer is also considered an early stage of breast cancer. There is a slightly increased risk to your life versus a Stage I breast cancer. Altogether, the risk of Stage II breast cancer threatening your life in the next 5 years is about 15%.
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Factors Influencing Metastatic Breast Cancer Prognosis
There are several factors that can impact the prognosis of metastatic breast cancer, these include:
- Hormone receptors on cancer cells
- The type of tissue involved
- The number of tumors/extent of metastasis
- A persons overall attitude and outlook on the prognosis
Of course, no factors can accurately predict the exact prognosis for a person with metastatic breast cancer.;These statistics are based on many clinical research studies, looking at survival rates for people diagnosed with breast cancer at all stages.;But the prognosis of each person is different, regardless of what the statistics indicate.;
Cancer Cure And All Clear
Many people who have cancer want to know if theyre cured. You may hear words like cure and all clear in the media.
Cured means theres no chance of the breast cancer coming back. However, its not possible to be sure that breast cancer will never come back. Treatment for breast cancer will be successful for most people, and the risk of;recurrence;gets less as time goes on. Recurrence, unfortunately, can happen even many years after treatment, so no one can say with certainty that youre definitely cured.
All clear, or in remission which is another term you may have heard used, means theres no obvious sign of cancer at the moment.;
If your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body this will affect your prognosis. Secondary breast cancer can be treated, sometimes for many years, but not cured. Find out more about secondary breast cancer.
In order to be as clear as possible, your treatment team is more likely to talk about your chances of survival over a period of time or the possibility of remaining free of breast cancer in the future.
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How Breast Cancer Survivors Can Increase Their Reduced Life Expectancy
Aerobic and resistance training lowers their heightened risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and possibly breast cancer recurrence, USC study says.
Contact: Zen Vuong, or;
A USC study suggests regular exercise could add to the life expectancy of breast cancer survivors because it lowers their heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and possibly breast cancer recurrence.
Many people dont know the No. 1 cause of death for breast cancer survivors is heart disease, not cancer, said Christina Dieli-Conwright, lead author of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Jan. 22.
Breast cancer has a relatively high survival rate. An estimated 9 out of 10 people who have breast cancer are still alive five years after they were diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. The problem, however, is women tend to gain weight during breast cancer treatment.
The new study suggests female breast cancer survivors should engage in a mix of aerobic and resistance exercise to reduce their increased risk for metabolic syndrome a cluster of health conditions that includes high blood pressure, excessive body fat and high triglycerides. High triglyceride levels increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
Women with metabolic syndrome are 17 percent more likely to get breast cancer, three times more likely to experience breast cancer recurrence and two times more likely to die from breast cancer, the study cited.
Inflammation and more
Metastatic Breast Cancer Is Terminal
Metastatic breast cancer cant be cured and it is terminal. One thing I didnt know when I was first diagnosed is that breast cancer can only kill you if you have metastatic breast cancer, says Rosen, who explains that if your cancer remains in the breast, the tumor can be removed, but metastatic means it has spread outside the breast.
MBC is almost like a different disease than early-stage breast cancer, adds Ann Silberman, 60, from Sacramento, California, who was diagnosed in 2009. We are going to die. Our concerns are much different from those of a person who has a treatment that will be over . Someone in an earlier stage may worry about losing their hair which is understandable but they will return to their normal life at some point.
People with metastatic breast cancer expect to be on treatment for the rest of their lives. I dont think everyone understands that, Silberman says. I still get, When will your treatment be over? Well, its never going to be over.
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Pregnancy Diagnosed During Or After Breast Cancer
Studies of pregnancy after a diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are retrospective and most are case-controlled investigations. Although one study showed an increased risk for relapse, most other studies show either no difference in recurrence or a decrease in risk of recurrence. Breast cancer survivors and their medical caregivers are advised to fully discuss the risk of recurrence when discussing post-cancer reproductive choices.
Outcomes Of Breast Cancer In Patients Who Use Alternative Therapies As Primary Treatment
This was a medical chart review by Chang et al, published in the American Journal of Surgery in 2006. It examined breast cancer patients who refused conventional chemotherapy, or delay its initiation, in order to use CAM. The authors calculated each patients prognosis at the time of diagnosis. In total, 33 women were included. The results were grim:
- Eleven patients initially refused surgery. Ten of these patients experienced progressive disease. Five ultimately had surgery. In the six others, the cancer had already metastasized, so surgery would have offered no benefit.
- Three patients refused to allow sampling of lymph nodes to evaluate disease spread. One of these patients developed recurrent disease in the lymph nodes.
- Ten patients refused local control of the tumor site. Two patients developed recurrences in the same location, and two developed metastatic disease.
- Nine patients refused chemotherapy, raising their estimated 10-year mortality from 17% to 25%
Consistent with the study above, the vast majority of breast cancer patients who refuse surgical intervention developed progressive disease. Even delaying surgery increased risks and overall mortality. Outcomes were better for patients that accepted surgery, but refused adjuvant treatments, like chemotherapy. However, even this strategy significantly raised 10-year mortality estimates.
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Outcome Analysis Of Breast Cancer Patients Who Declined Evidence
Here is the recent paper I referred to above, which studied women with breast cancer in Northern Alberta who refused standard treatments.; It was also a chart review with a matched pair analysis that compared survival with those that; received conventional cancer care. Between 1980 and 2006 they identified 185 women that refused cancer care following diagnosis by biopsy. Women older than 75 were excluded from the analysis because this population is generally not included in clinical trials and active treatment regimens. In addition, women that accepted surgery, but rejected chemotherapy/radiation were excluded from the analysis. To qualify, women had to have rejected all conventional care. The final population studied was 87 women, most of whom presented with early disease. Most were married, over the age of 50, and urban residents. In this group, the primary treatment was CAM in 58%, and was unknown in the remainder. Some women in this group eventually accepted cancer care, and the average delay was 20-30 weeks due to CAM use.
The results were grim. The 5 year overall survival was 43% for women that declined cancer care, and 86% for women that received conventional cancer care. For cancer-specific survival survival was 46% vs. 85% in those that took cancer care. The survival curves are ugly:
All causes of deaths and deaths due to breast cancer only
The authors compared the CAM group to those where treatment plan was not known:
Breast Cancer Diagnosed During Or After Pregnancy
Being pregnant at the time of diagnosis of breast cancer has been associated with a worse outcome. In one study of 797 such cases, compared with 4,177 non-pregnancy-associated breast cancer controls, women diagnosed while pregnant had larger, more advanced tumors, a greater incidence of receptor-negative tumors, and a higher death rate . A smaller study found no association between pregnancy and increased mortality. In contrast, pregnancy and childbirth following a diagnosis of breast cancer do not increase mortality, and actually may improve survival. One study found that 438 women age <45 years at diagnosis, who delivered a child 10 or more months following a diagnosis of breast cancer, had a decreased relative risk of death , compared to women who did not bear children following diagnosis. Women who were pregnant at the time they were diagnosed had a mortality rate similar to the latter group. This suggests that childbirth following breast cancer diagnosis does not increase mortality.
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How Is Prognosis Estimated
Prognosis is estimated by looking at what has happened over many years to large groups of people diagnosed with a similar cancer. However, everyones situation is different so no one can say for certain what will happen to you. Also, treatments and survival rates are constantly improving, which affects the accuracy of estimates for people being treated today.
Prognosis is described in different ways. It may be put into words or numbers. Its often expressed as a five- or ten-year survival rate. This is an estimate of how many people are likely to be alive five or ten years following their diagnosis.;
A 90% five-year survival rate means that 90 out of 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer are likely to be alive five years after their diagnosis. It doesnt mean these people will only live for five years; it just states how many people are likely to be alive at that point.
Cancer Research UK has general statistics on five- and ten-year breast cancer survival rates on;their website. Remember, these statistics are based on large groups of patients and cannot predict what will happen in your individual case.
Survival Rate With Metastatic Breast Cancer
Many people wonder about the life expectancy for stage 4 breast cancer . It’s important to note that everyone is different and survival rates vary widely. There are some people who survive many years and even decades with stage 4 disease. At the same time, it’s important to understand that stage 4 breast cancer isn’t curable.
It can be helpful to look at current statistics and consider the many variables that affect life expectancy. While it’s important not to raise false hope, it may help to know the reality that there are some long-term survivors.
Some people want to know the statistics, but many don’t. If you’re living with stage 4 breast cancer, there is absolutely no requirement that you know the prognosis. The information provided here is only for those who truly wish to know what the current research iseven this research has many limitations.
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Understanding Breast Cancer Survival Rates
Prognosis varies by stage of breast cancer.
Non-invasive and early stage invasive breast cancers have a better prognosis than later stage cancers .
Breast cancer thats only in the breast and has not spread to the lymph nodes has a better prognosis than breast cancer thats spread to the lymph nodes.
The poorest prognosis is for metastatic breast cancer , when the cancer has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment.
Plans Have To Be Flexible
My energy is unpredictable, says Sendelbach. I literally never know how Im going to feel from one day to the next. Its so hard to make plans because if I say yes to something thats two weeks away, the day of, I could wake up and feel absolutely horrible.
When someone with metastatic breast cancer declines an invitation or cancels at the last minute, its most likely not because they dont want to be there. Says Sendelbach, We physically cant do it.
Silberman agrees. Ive been going through for a long time, she says, and Ive had friends drop away. Because of MBC and my treatments, its hard for me to be reliable.
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Our Advice To Other Women With Metastatic Breast Cancer: Be Nice To Yourself
Give yourself a break! is the advice that Sendelbach offers. Stop negative self-talk about what you should have done but didnt do, she says. If you have MBC, you need to be kind and loving to yourself.
The body has only so much energy to offer per day, and managing metastatic breast cancer requires a lot of it. So it doesnt make sense to try to compare what youre able to do with what your cancer-free friends are accomplishing.
Just getting through the day can be hard, Sendelbach says. Getting rid of those not good enough feelings can lift a huge weight off you.
What Are Cancer Survival Statistics
A key part of making a prognosis is looking at survival rates. These are numbers researchers collect over many years in people with the same type of cancer. These numbers are based on large groups of people. For breast cancer, there are two main measurements:
Breast cancer survivalrates reflect the percentage of women who are alive 5 years or longer after their diagnosis. This means the numbers are based on women who were found to have breast cancer at least 5 years ago. Advances in diagnosing and treating cancer have led to steadily improving survival rates, so the outlook for women diagnosed today is likely better.
Relative survival rates dont take into account the cause of death. Theyre a measure of the percentage of people with cancer who have lived for a certain time after diagnosis, compared with people who did not have cancer.
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Survival And Mortality Rates
Survival depends on mortality. You start with 100 percent of the people in the group.
100 percent mortality rate = survival rate
Say, the mortality rate in the group of people is 5 percent. Survival would be 95 percent .
Similarly, the number of people in a group who survive depends on the number of people who die. Say,;500 people are;in the group and 1 person dies. This means 499 people survived .