Surviving Cancer

Frequently Asked Questions

3. What factors influence cancer survival and recovery?

Cancer survival and recovery varies considerably by the type of cancer and the stage of diagnosis. Staging describes the extent or severity of an individual's cancer. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan a person's treatment and estimate the chance of recovery and recurrence.

For example, more than 85 percent of adults with breast, prostate, and skin cancers live at least five years beyond their diagnosis. More than half of people diagnosed with leukemia, a type of blood cancer, live at least five years beyond their diagnosis. A few cancers, such as liver and pancreatic cancer, have low survival rates due primarily to late stage at diagnosis.

A person's age, and more importantly their health status, when diagnosed with cancer may have an effect on their survival and recovery. Older adults are more likely to have other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Managing these conditions can complicate treatment and affect recovery time. Also, older people's bodies metabolize, or break down, drugs at a slower rate than younger people, and this can have an effect on the way medicines are tolerated. For instance, some older adults may not be able to tolerate high doses of chemotherapy (cancer-fighting drugs) and radiation that are used to treat cancer.