Survival statistics

Many doctors are wary of using the term “cure” because undetected cancer cells can remain in the body after treatment, causing the cancer to return. Instead they may use the term “five‑year survival rate”. Australia has among the best survival rates for cancer in the world.

The five-year survival rate is determined by the percentage of people alive five years after diagnosis. It does not mean you will only survive for five years. For example, about 90 out of 100 people (90%) with breast cancer will be alive five years after they are diagnosed. Many of these people live much longer than five years after diagnosis.

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How accurate are the statistics?

Five-year cancer survival rates are a guide only. They generally include everyone with a particular type of cancer, at all stages and grades of the disease. For most cancers, people diagnosed with early-stage disease (small cancer that has not spread) are likely to have a much better outlook than people diagnosed with late-stage/ advanced disease (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body).

Statistics take many years to calculate and are usually slightly out of date. For example, if you were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, the doctor may use survival rates for people diagnosed in 2009 (followed for five years until 2013). With cancer treatments improving all the time, your outcome (prognosis) is likely to be better than it would have been in 2009.

Asking your doctor how your risk has changed at your check-ups can be a good way of learning what the latest statistics are, or how much your risk has reduced since your treatment finished.

Living with advanced cancer
For some people, cancer does come back after treatment. This can be devastating. Treatment for advanced cancer aims to control the cancer for as long as possible. In some cases this may be months or years. For more on dealing with the emotional, physical and practical aspects of a cancer recurrence, see Advanced cancer or call 13 11 20.

This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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