Health Encyclopedia

Can I Survive Anal Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?

A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound harsh to ask the question, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most people have when they learn they have cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.

Your chance of recovery depends on a number of things:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • Its stage

  • How quickly it is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age and general health

  • How you respond to treatment

Before talking about your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with anal cancer. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.

If the cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable, or good, prognosis. If the cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It is important to keep in mind, though, that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.

Some people find it easier to cope when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistical information confusing and frightening. Or they might think it is too general to be useful. The doctor who is most familiar with your situation is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment works. The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It is up to you to decide how much you want to know.

What does the 5-year survival rate mean?

Survival rates show what percentage of people with a certain type and stage of cancer survive the disease for a certain period of time after they are diagnosed. A 5-year survival rate refers to people who are alive 5 years after they are diagnosed. These are the people it includes:

  • People who are free of disease

  • People who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • People who are being treated for cancer

Many people included in the 5-year rate live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Also, because the statistic is based on people diagnosed more than 5 years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be better today. People who are more recently diagnosed often have a more favorable outlook. That’s because of continuing improvements in treatment.

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. Keep in mind that survival rates do not predict what will happen to someone. No 2 people are exactly the same. Treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.

What are survival rates for anal cancer?

Anal cancer is a serious disease. But treatments are effective, and most people can be cured.

Your outlook depends on the type and location of the anal cancer. About half of all anal cancers are found early, before the cancer has spread beyond the anus. This is called localized cancer. The 5-year survival rate for localized anal cancer is 80%.

Sometimes, the cancer isn't found until it has spread to the lymph nodes or other areas around the anus. This is called locally advanced cancer. The 5-year survival rate for locally advanced anal cancer is 60%. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, this is called metastatic cancer. The 5-year survival rate for metastatic anal cancer is about 31%.

The overall 5-year survival rate for anal cancer is about 65%.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
  • MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician