The statistical survival rate is a tool often used by physicians to discuss the liver cancer prognosis (outlook) of an individual suffering from the disease. Many patients want to understand survival statistics involving individuals that experience similar medical situations. Still others do not find the survival numbers helpful, and possibly want to avoid knowing them. Sometimes if the patient knows a certain number, they actually will only live to that length of time. They unconsciously give up when that amount of time has lapsed.
A Five-Year Survival Rate
When doctors discuss a five-year survival rate, they often refer to a rough percentage rate of individual patients living a minimum of five years once the liver cancer has been diagnosed. Of course, many of these individuals live significantly longer than the five years. In fact, it is more of a “relative” survival rate, assuming that some patients die from other causes.
To determine a five-year survival rate, physicians look at the statistical numbers of patients treated a minimum of five years ago. However, this number is often skewed because of significant improvements in medical treatments that were unavailable half a decade ago. These advancements might produce a more favorable outcome for patients that have only been recently diagnosed with liver cancer.
The National Cancer Institute maintains the SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) database, containing information on patient’s with the liver cancer diagnosis. Even though doctors use this information, it does not divide survival rates of liver cancer patients by individual stages. Instead, it groups each case in a summary stage, involving:
• Localized – When a doctor provides a liver cancer prognosis as localized, it is usually in stages I, II and some III cancers. At these stages, the cancer remains confined in the liver, which is often easier to treat than in a malignant stage. The prognosis is usually 28 percent survival after five years.
• Regional – Once the nearby organs contain liver cancer tissue, or it is found in nearby lymph nodes, it is often referred to in the regional stage as either a IIIC (stage 3C cancer), or a IVA cancer. The cancer in the liver prognosis in the regional stage at five years is seven percent.
• Distant – This refers to liver cancers spreading to distant tissues and organs. This is often referred to as stage IVB. Distant five-year relative survival rate for liver cancer patients is two percent.
When all stages of liver cancer are combined, the relative survival rate of five years is approximately 15 percent. This relatively low survival rate of liver cancer is the result of other associated liver issues, including cirrhosis, which is typically fatal on its own.
Overall, five-year survival rates tend to be significantly higher in individuals that have had surgeries, removing cancer at any stage. As an example, clinical studies show patients with a resected small tumor not associated with cirrhosis or other significant health problem is likely to do significantly better if the cancer is removed. For them, the survival five-year rate increases to 50 percent.
It is important to remember that statistics are just averages that are often based on huge numbers of patients with similar conditions. The statistics do not have the ability to accurately predict what happens to each individual patient. This is because the medical conditions of two patients are never exactly alike, nor is their response to treatment.