What Does Prognosis Mean?

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Your prognosis is your outlook or your chance of recovery from breast cancer. New and better treatments are helping people diagnosed with breast cancer live longer than ever before. Still, breast cancer may come back or spread to another part of the body after treatment.

Your doctor will consider many factors when determining your prognosis, including:

  • the size of the breast cancer
  • the stage of the breast cancer: whether the cancer is only in the breast or has spread to the lymph nodes or other places in the body
  • the type of breast cancer
  • the hormone-receptor status of the cancer
  • HER2 status
  • whether the cancer is triple-negative (estrogen-receptor-negative, progesterone-receptor-negative, and HER2-negative)
  • the rate of cell growth
  • how likely the cancer is to come back (recurrence)
  • whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or is a recurrence
  • your age
  • your menopausal status
  • your general health

Doctors often use survival rates to talk about your prognosis. While some people want to know the statistics for others in similar situations, it’s important to remember that each person and each breast cancer is unique. Survival rates usually are based on the outcomes of many, many people diagnosed with breast cancer, but survival rates can’t predict what will happen in your particular situation.

Think about whether you want to know about breast cancer survival statistics before you read beyond this point.

The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Many people live much longer than 5 years after being diagnosed. It’s also important to remember that people diagnosed with breast cancer can die from other causes -- stroke or heart attack, for example. The 5-year survival numbers don’t take into account that some people died from something other than breast cancer.

To get 5-year survival rates, doctors look at people who were diagnosed and treated at least 5 years ago. Sometimes researchers estimate 5-year survival rates based on information from shorter periods of follow-up. Survival rates can be given in other periods of time besides 5 years -- 10 years, for example.

Researchers are continually working to develop new treatments for breast cancer; these new and better treatments may mean a better prognosis for people in similar situations diagnosed today.

The survival rates by breast cancer stage below are from the American Cancer Society and are based on all people diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and 2002.

Breast Cancer Stage 5-Year Survival Rate for Women
0 93%
I 88%
IIA 81%
IIB 74%
IIIA 67%
IIIB 41%
IIIC 49%
IV 15%

Note: The numbers are correct as written -- stage IIIB has worse survival than stage IIIC.

The survival rates from the American Cancer Society below are only for men diagnosed with breast cancer. The relative 5-year survival rate takes into account that some men will die from other causes and compares observed survival to survival expected for men not diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Stage 5-Year Relative Survival Rate for Men
0 100%
I 96%
II 84%
III 52%
IV 24%

Your doctor can help you figure out how survival rates may apply to your situation.


Pathology Report ThumbnailYour Guide to the Breast Cancer Pathology Report is an on-the-go reference booklet you can fill out with your doctor or nurse to keep track of the results of your pathology report. Order a free booklet by mail or download the PDF of the booklet to print it at home.

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