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Can I Survive Esophageal 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 people have when they learn they have esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.

Your chance of recovery depends on these things:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • The stage of the disease

  • How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age

  • Your general health

  • How you respond to treatment

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with cancer. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor 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 happen. No doctor 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. Other people find this information confusing and frightening. Or they may think it is too general to be useful. The doctor 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 for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s 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. If esophageal cancer is found very early, there is a better chance of recovery (a better prognosis). Unfortunately, esophageal cancer is often diagnosed in an advanced stage. At later stages, esophageal cancer can be treated but rarely cured.