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Can I Survive Cervical Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?

A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound hard to ask, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most women have when they learn they have cervical cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer, and there's no sure way to determine your prognosis.

Your chance of recovery depends on the following:

  • Type and location of the cancer

  • Stage of the disease

  • How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age

  • Your general health

  • How you respond to treatment

You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist, a subspecialist who has done extra training in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecologic cancers. 

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your health care provider will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. He or she will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, your health care provider will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with cancer. When possible, your health care provider will make a prediction, based on statistics for groups of women whose situations are most like yours.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your health care provider will say you have a favorable 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 definitely happen. No health care provider 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. Others find statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think it is too general to be useful. The health care provider 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. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. 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 for cervical cancer mean?

Survival rates show the percentage of women who live for a specific length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are specific to women with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often, statistics refer to the 5-year survival rate. That’s the percentage of women who are living 5 years after diagnosis. The 5-year rate includes women who:

  • Are free of disease

  • Have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • Are still undergoing treatment for cancer

Many women included in the 5-year rate live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Because the statistics we have for 5-year rates are based on women diagnosed and initially treated more than 5 years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be even better today. Survival rates are based on large groups of women. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular woman. No two women are exactly alike, and treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly. Fortunately, the majority of women diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States are cured. Recently diagnosed women often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment.