Anal Cancer: Your Chances of Recovery (Prognosis)

What is a prognosis?

Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your chances of recovering from cancer. Or it may mean your likely outcome from cancer and cancer treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. It’s a question many people have when they learn they have cancer.

Making a choice

The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to know. Some people find it easier to cope and plan ahead when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think statistics are too general to be useful.

A healthcare provider who is most familiar with your health is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean in your case. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis can change. Cancer and cancer treatment outcomes are hard to predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis (which means you’re likely going to do well) can change if the cancer spreads to key organs or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn’t grow or spread.

What goes into a prognosis

When figuring out your prognosis, your healthcare provider will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. He or she will look at risk estimates about the exact type and stage of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many years in thousands of people with the same type and stage of cancer.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your healthcare provider will say you have a favorable prognosis. This means you’re expected to live many years and may even be cured. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The cancer may shorten your life. It’s important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what’s likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely happen. No healthcare provider can be fully certain about an outcome.

Your prognosis depends mainly on:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • Its stage

  • How quickly it is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age and general health

  • Your treatment decisions

  • How you respond to treatment

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates show how many people live for a certain length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain types and stages of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the 5-year or the 10-year survival rate. That’s how many people are living 5 years or 10 years after diagnosis. The survival rate includes people at these different stages:

  • People who are free of disease or cured

  • People who have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • People who are being treated for cancer

Many people included in the 5-year rate live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Also, because the statistic is based on people diagnosed more than 5 years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be better today. People who are more recently diagnosed often have a more favorable outlook. That’s because of continuing improvements in treatment.

What are the survival rates for anal cancer?

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. Keep in mind that survival rates do not predict what will happen to someone. No two people are exactly the same. Treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.

Anal cancer is a serious disease. But treatments are effective, and most people can be cured.

About half of all anal cancers are found early, before the cancer has spread beyond the anus. This is called localized cancer. The 5-year survival rate for localized anal cancer is 80%.

Sometimes, the cancer isn't found until it’s spread to the lymph nodes or other areas around the anus. This is called locally advanced cancer. The 5-year survival rate for locally advanced anal cancer is 61%. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it’s called metastatic cancer. The 5-year survival rate for metastatic anal cancer is about 30%.

The overall 5-year survival rate for anal cancer is about 66%.

Talking with your healthcare provider

You can ask your healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.