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Can I Survive Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? What Is My Prognosis?

It may sound harsh to ask the question, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a natural question when you are facing lymphoma. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.

Your chance of recovery depends on a number of things:

  • The type and location of the lymphoma

  • Its stage

  • How quickly it is likely to grow and spread

  • Results of certain lab tests

  • Your age and general health

  • How the lymphoma responds to treatment

If you want to know about your prognosis, 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 looks at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with lymphoma. When possible, the doctor uses statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction. In the case of lymphoma, looking at statistics for the subtype of lymphoma is most helpful. There are many different types of lymphoma, each with a different prognosis.

If your lymphoma is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the lymphoma 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 statistical information confusing and frightening. Or they might 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 if this is something you want to know about. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the lymphoma 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 are the treatment statistics for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

The treatment options for people with lymphoma depend on the kind of lymphoma and its stage, as well as other factors. If the lymphoma is confined to the lymph nodes, it can sometimes be treated with radiation. If the lymphoma has spread, it's usually treated with chemotherapy alone or along with biologic therapy, depending on the type of lymphoma. If the lymphoma persists or recurs after treatment, it may be treated with high- or low-dose chemotherapy with bone marrow transplants.

According to the National Cancer Institute, these are survival rates for all non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Survival rates refers to the number of people who live a specified number of years after the lymphoma diagnosis. For example, a five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who are alive five years after they are diagnosed. These are the people it includes:

  • Those who are free of disease (there are no signs of lymphoma)

  • Those who have few or no signs or symptoms of lymphoma

  • Those who are being treated for lymphoma

Many people included in the five-year survival rate live much longer than five years after diagnosis. The relative survival statistics adjust for other causes of death that are not directly related to the lymphoma. Because these rates are based on patients first diagnosed and treated several years ago, the outlook for newly diagnosed patients may be better. It's important to note that survival rates can vary widely, depending on the type and stage (extent) of the lymphoma, so the numbers below may not apply to a particular person's situation:

  • The relative five-year survival rate for lymphomas that are still in the area where they started is about 81 percent.

  • The relative five-year survival rate for lymphomas that have spread to nearby areas is about 72 percent.

  • The relative five-year survival rate for lymphomas that have spread to distant parts of the body is about 60 percent 

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular person. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.