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Cancer Survival Rates

Updated on December 4, 2013

There Is No "Good" Cancer

Cancer is a term used to describe what happens when cells divide in an abnormal and uncontrolled manner. This process can see the abnormal cells invade surrounding tissue and spread throughout the body.

There are over 100 different types of cancer and these are usually named after their point of origin. E.g. If the primary cancer started in the lung it will be called Lung Cancer.

Secondary cancers occur when the abnormal cells spread around the body. This is called metastasis or metastatic disease.

It is not uncommon for the secondary cancer to be the first one noticed. Prostate cancer for example often leads to secondary deposits in the bones. Men admitted to hospital after a bone breaks with little or no force applied to it often discover they have prostate cancer.

Doctors are aware that certain cancers have a pattern of the locations of secondary disease. This helps with diagnosis. Using the example of secondary bone tumors again, the likely primary cancers include Breast, Prostate, Lung, Multiple Myeloma, Kidney and Thyroid.

All cancers are abnormal cells and all cancers represent a problem within the body. Some cancers are more aggressive than others and as a result are much more dangerous. They quickly infiltrate surrounding tissue and affect multiple systems required for life. These are the most deadly cancers that are frequently called "Bad" cancer.

Innocent Looking Breast Cancer Cell
Innocent Looking Breast Cancer Cell

Cancer Survival Rate

The first thing to note is that no one cancer kills 100% of those diagnosed with it.. One of the amazing things about the human body is that the variation we have between us means that the occasional person will beat even the most aggressive cancers.

Having said that some cancers have terrible survival statistics. When assessing the danger posed by the different types of cancer, researchers typically look at Five Year Survival Rates. This is the most commonly quoted figure although there is also 10 year, 15 year and 20 year data for most forms of cancer.

If you do a lot a research you will notice some discrepancies in published data.This is because certain cancers are more common in some races than others. Government bodies usually produce these figures and the cultural make up of that country's society will affect the results.

Another factor that leads to variation is diagnosis. The 5 years measured starts with diagnosis. It is well proven that early diagnosis improves the chances of survival. A country with sophisticated and efficient diagnostic resources will have better survival rates than a country with basic medical care.

The following figures are from the article "Long-term survival rates of cancer patients achieved by the end of the 20th century: a period analysis."

Malignant Melanoma - Early detection is vital.
Malignant Melanoma - Early detection is vital.

Cancer: The Best 5 Year Survival Rates

Prostate cancer has a 99% survival rate at 5 years and even after 20 years is still 81%

Thyroid is next at 96%, just above

Testicular Cancer at 95%.

Melanoma is 4th at 89% closely followed by

Breast at 86%.

Many would be surprised to see Breast Cancer in the top 5. It has good survival figures but is still responsible for thousands of deaths as it is also a very common cancer. These figures do not indicate the number of people killed by these diseases, only the survival rates once a diagnosis is made. It is also important to point out that the reasons these figures are so good is because of modern cancer treatments. Testicular cancer still kills many men and late diagnosis is the primary reason.

Breast cancer is also notable because of the steady deterioration of survival figures over time. From 86% at 5 years the figures fall to 78%, 71% then 65% at 10, 15 and 20 years respectively.

Pancreatic Cancer - Only 4% live more than 5 years
Pancreatic Cancer - Only 4% live more than 5 years

Cancer: The Worst 5 Year Survival Rates

Cancer of the Pancreas has the unfortunate title of Most Deadly Cancer with 5 year survival rates at 4%. This is the form of cancer that took the life of film star Patrick Swayze in 2009.

Liver and Bile Duct cancers are at 8% and

Cancer of the Esophagus is 14%.

Lung cancer gives a 15% chance of survival at 5 years leaving

Stomach cancer to round out the bottom 5 with 24%.

It is not hard to see why so much has been done to decrease the rates of smoking in society. Apart from directly affecting the lung tissue, smoking raises the risk of cancer in many other parts of the body as well.

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    • profile image

      angel 5 years ago

      What about medulloblastoma? My 15 month old had most of her brain tumor removed and we are still waiting to hear what kind of treatment she,will receive. We are waiting ob,the results to see if tgey found any of,the cells in her spine. Is anyone familiar with this type of cancer and survival rate?

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      Susana Loo 5 years ago

      Actually, glioblastom multiforme is one of the top deadliest cancers. The survival rate is only of 15 months. Most people with this type of cancer die within that time period or less.

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      Blake Demers 6 years ago

      "Glioblastoma multiforme has the worst prognosis with 5-year survival rates of only 13% for people ages 20 - 44, and 1% for patients age 55 - 64." ( ) Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc

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      Bill 6 years ago

      I was interested the rates for neurosarcoma.

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      Kevin 6 years ago

      What about Mesothelioma?

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      lori 6 years ago

      Interesting that Brain cancer-Glioblastoma Multiforme didn't make the worst list at a 5 yr survival at less than 3%.

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      Tamika Jarvis 7 years ago

      Very interesting! Thanks for providing this information! :)

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Interesting hub & factual!

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Thank you for providing the answers many of us seek in understanding the ranking of cancer survival rates.