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Cancer Survival Underestimated

Long-Term Survival Rates Often Better Than Predicted

WebMD Health News

Oct. 10, 2002 -- When someone's diagnosed with cancer, the big issue quickly becomes, "How long have I got?" But new research suggests the answer to that question may often be overly pessimistic.

Recent improvements in early detection and cancer treatment have significantly improved the outlook for many cancer patients, but those advances are not currently taken into account in calculating long-term estimates of life expectancy after cancer diagnosis. Instead, the survival estimates are based on the experience of cancer patients who were diagnosed many years ago and fail to reflect recent developments.

But the author of a new study says an alternative method provides more up-to-date estimates of cancer survival by using data from a recent time period.

According to this new method, all survival estimates -- ranging from five years to 20 years after cancer diagnosis -- have all been underestimated. For example, the researchers say that five-year cancer survival rates after diagnosis are 1% higher than we thought. But this number jumps to 11% when 20-year survival rates are examined.

These new estimates could help prevent undue discouragement or depression by outdated and often overly pessimistic survival expectations, according to study researcher Hermann Brenner, of the department of epidemiology at the German Centre for Research on Ageing at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

For specific cancers, 20-year survival rates were close to 90% for testicular and thyroid cancer, more than 80% for melanomas and prostate cancer, about 65% for breast cancer, and about 50% for colorectal, ovarian, and kidney cancer, according to this new method. These estimates would be affected by the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

The new estimates show there has been major progress in long-term survival for many types of cancer, but the news is not that good for all cancers. For example, the study found the newer survival estimates for lung cancer were no better than ones based on the traditional method. -->

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