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Prostate Cancer Survival Rates: What They Mean

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In a good way, these figures are already outdated.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%.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD, FACP on July 31, 2013
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