Oral Cancer: Your Chances for Recovery (Prognosis)
What is a prognosis?
Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your chances of recovering
from cancer. Or it may mean your likely outcome from cancer and cancer treatment.
A prognosis is a calculated guess. It’s a question many people have when they learn
they have cancer.
Making a choice
The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It’s up to you to decide
how much you want to know. Some people find it easier to cope and plan ahead when
they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work.
Other people find statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think statistics
are too general to be useful.
A doctor who is most familiar with your health is in the best position to discuss
your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean in your case. At
the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis can change. Cancer and
cancer treatment outcomes are hard to predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis
(which means you’re likely going to do well) can change if the cancer spreads to key
organs or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too.
This can happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn’t grow or
What goes into a prognosis
When figuring out your prognosis, your doctor will consider all the things that could
affect the cancer and its treatment. Your doctor will look at risk estimates about
the exact type and stage of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what
results researchers have seen over many years in thousands of people with the same
type and stage of cancer.
If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have
a favorable prognosis. This means you’re expected to live many years and may even
be cured. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less
favorable. The cancer may shorten your life. It’s important to keep in mind that a
prognosis states what’s likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely
happen. No doctor can be fully certain about an outcome.
Your prognosis depends on these things:
The type and location of the cancer
The stage of the cancer
How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread
Your general health
Your treatment decisions
How your cancer responds to treatment
Understanding survival rates
Survival rates show how many people live for a certain length of time after being
told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain types and stages
of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the 5-year or the 10-year survival
rate. That’s how many people are living 5 years or 10 years after diagnosis. The survival
rate includes people at these different stages:
People who are cancer-free or cured
People who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer
People who are getting cancer treatment
What are the survival rates for oral cancer?
These are the 5-year relative survival rates for oral cavity and pharyngeal cancer
from the National Cancer Database for people diagnosed between 2007 and 2013. If you
have recently been diagnosed, you may have a more favorable outlook because of treatment
The 5-year relative survival rates for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx (throat)
84% for cancer that has not spread beyond where it first started
64% for cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes
39% for cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body
These survival rates are adjusted to account for the fact that some people may die
of causes other than cancer.
Talking with your healthcare provider
You can ask your healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might expect.
But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used
to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how
well people respond to treatment vary.