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Understanding a 5-year Survival Rate

A 5-year survival rate is just a number. You may go on to live much longer than your projected time.

When a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, it's common for them to immediately wonder how long they have to live. This is call their "survival rate." Doctors often establish a five-year survival rate when working with a newly diagnosed patient. This number is not guaranteed to be correct but often is.

5-year survival rate
According to The American Cancer Society, five-year cancer survival rates are based on the percentage of patients who have been diagnosed with the disease and lived for at least five years afterwards. Often, the patients go on to live longer than five years, but that is the standard of measurement. There are many factors besides the stage of your cancer that can affect your survival rate. Your age at the time of diagnosis, as well as your diet and lifestyle choices (like how often you exercise and if you smoke or drink) can alter your survival rate.

The typical 5-year survival rates for people with these stages of breast cancer are as follows:

  • Stage 0 = 100 percent
  • Stage l  = 100 percent
  • Stage ll = 93 percent
  • Stage lll = 72 percent
  • Stage lV = 22 percent

Keep in mind that these statistics are based off of the cancer stage when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to patients whose diseases come back or spread to other areas than where they occurred at the time of diagnosis. 

While there is not currently a cure for breast cancer, science and technology are constantly evolving, and people are working towards establishing one. If a doctor tells you that you have a certain percentage survival rate, it does not mean that is exactly what will happen. You may have a miraculous recovery and go into remission, and you could also experience a recurrence or have your cancer spread. The five-year survival rate is simply an estimate based on past occurrences among a large number of people affected by breast cancer.

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