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Can I Survive Bladder Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?

A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound harsh to ask the question, "Can I survive this?" But it's a question most people have when they learn they have cancer. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer:

Your chance of recovery depends on a number of things:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • Its stage

  • How quickly it is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age and general health

  • How you respond to treatment

For bladder cancer that's noninvasive and hasn't spread into the bladder muscle and hasn't spread beyond the bladder, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 96%. If it is invasive but still confined to the bladder, the 5-year relative survival rate falls to 70%. The survival rate drops to about 33% if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs. When bladder cancer has moved beyond the bladder to distant parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate decreases to about 6%.  

Before talking about your prognosis with you, your health care provider will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your health care provider will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the health care provider will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with bladder cancer. When possible, the health care provider will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your health care provider will say you have a favorable, or good, prognosis. If the cancer 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 health care provider 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 health care provider 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 you want statistical information, ask your medical team for the most reliable, up-to-date resources. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person's prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment works. 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 does the 5-year survival rate mean?

Survival rates show what percentage of people with a certain type and stage of cancer who survive the disease for a certain period of time after they are diagnosed. A 5-year survival rate refers to people who are alive at least 5 years after they are diagnosed. These are the people it includes:

  • People who are free of disease

  • 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.

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. Keep in mind that survival rates do not predict what will happen to someone. No 2 people are exactly the same. Treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly. It makes some sense to plan when you're facing a serious disease. Still, don't allow statistics to dictate your future. There are people who have survived every stage of bladder cancer. There are people who have outlived their health care provider's predictions. Your prognosis gives a perspective, but it is not etched in stone. Try to focus your thoughts on the tens of thousands of people who have survived bladder cancer. You may be one of them.

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 12/30/2013
© 2013 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.