As cancer diagnoses go, prostate cancer is often a less serious one. Prostate cancer is frequently slow-growing and slow to spread. For many men, prostate cancer is less serious than their other medical conditions.
For these reasons, and possibly because of earlier detection of low-grade prostate cancers, prostate cancer has one of the highest survival rates of any type of cancer. WebMD takes a look at prostate cancer survival rates and what they mean to you.
Prostate Cancer Is Common With Aging
After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. And these are just the men who are diagnosed. Among very elderly men dying of other causes, a surprising two-thirds may have prostate cancer that was never diagnosed.
Only 1 in 36 men, though, actually dies from prostate cancer. That's because most prostate cancers are diagnosed in older men in whom the disease is more likely to be slow-growing and non-aggressive. The majority of these men eventually pass away from heart disease, stroke, or other causes -- not their prostate cancer.
Prostate Cancer Survival Rates Are Favorable Overall
Thinking about survival rates for prostate cancer takes a little mental stretching. Keep in mind that most men are around 70 when diagnosed with prostate cancer. Over, say, five years, many of these men will die from other medical problems unrelated to prostate cancer.
To determine the prostate cancer survival rate, these men are subtracted out of the calculations. Counting only the men who are left provides what's called the relative survival rate for prostate cancer.
Taking that into consideration, the relative survival rates for most kinds of prostate cancer are actually pretty good. Remember, we're not counting men with prostate cancer who die of other causes:
- 99% of men with the most common types of prostate cancer overall will survive more than five years after diagnosis.
- For the more than 90% of men whose prostate cancer is localized to the prostate or just nearby, the prognosis is even better. Almost 100% of these men will live at least five years.
Another way to put this last point is nine out of 10 men with prostate cancer have localized cancer. Almost none of these men will die from their prostate cancer over five years.
Fewer men (about 5%) have more advanced prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis. Once prostate cancer has spread beyond the prostate, survival rates fall. For men with distant spread (metastasis) of prostate cancer, about one-third will survive for five years after diagnosis.
Many men with prostate cancer actually will live much longer than five years after diagnosis. What about longer-term survival rates? According to the American Cancer Society:
- The relative 10-year survival rate is 91%.
- The relative 15-year survival rate is 76%.
Staging, Spread, and Survival Rates
As with all cancers, doctors use the term stage to describe the characteristics of the primary tumor itself, such as its size and how far prostate cancer has spread when it is found.
Staging systems are complicated. The staging system for most cancers, including prostate cancer, uses three different aspects of tumor growth and spread. It's called the TNM system, for tumor, nodes, and metastasis:
- T, for tumor (which means a swelling, a growth or mass, and describes the cancer as found in its place of origin) describes the size of the main area of prostate cancer.
- N, for nodes, describes whether prostate cancer has spread to any lymph nodes, and how many and in what locations.
- M, for metastasis, means distant spread of prostate cancer, for example, to the bones or liver.
Using the TNM system, each man's prostate cancer can be described in detail and compared to other men's prostate cancer. Doctors use this information for studies and to decide on treatments.
As far as survival rates for prostate cancer go, however, the staging system is pretty simple. As we've mentioned, in terms of survival rates, men with prostate cancer can be divided into two groups:
- Men with prostate cancer that is localized to the prostate or just nearby. These men have a high long-term survival rate for their prostate cancer. Almost all will survive their prostate cancer for longer than five years -- and well beyond for many men.
- Men whose prostate cancer has spread to distant areas, like their bones. These men may need more aggressive treatment for their prostate cancer. Fewer of these men -- about one-third -- will survive their prostate cancer for more than five years.
In a good way, these figures are already outdated. Prostate cancer treatments are improving, and men are being diagnosed earlier than in previous years. Men diagnosed with prostate cancer today might have even better survival rates than these. For example, the five-year relative survival rate for men diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990 was 92.9%, and now it's 99%.