Question: How long must a woman survive after breast cancer to be considered cancer-free or cured?
Answer: According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for non-metastatic breast cancer (breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast) is 80%. Newspapers and television usually translate that to, "If you've survived for five years, you're cancer-free."
This is a bit misleading. It's true that during the first five years, the risk of recurrence is highest. But breast cancer can recur even after five years. The important point to know is that the more time passes, the lower the risk of recurrence becomes.
The chance of surviving breast cancer depends on MANY different factors taken together. Lymph node involvement has a strong influence on prognosis. The more lymph nodes involved, the more serious the cancer. Some of the other factors that affect outcome are your general health, the size of the cancer, hormone receptor status, growth rate, tumor grade, and HER2/neu status. Learn more about all of these factors in our section on Understanding Your "Big Picture."
Even with the best information, no one can predict the future. Each of us is unique, and how each woman's body and mind handle breast cancer and treatment is truly a mystery. Many women have beat the odds, while other women "sure to do well" somehow didn't. You just have to do the best you can, with the best team of doctors and nurses that you can assemble, together with your support network. Then focus on the power of your mind, and you can experience the momentum you need to move through treatment and beyond.
The good news is that more and more women are living longer than five years past breast cancer as a result of early detection, more effective breast cancer therapy, and better overall medical care.