What Is the Uterine Cancer Survival Rate?

Population-based averages can be useful but can't predict how long a person with uterine cancer might live.

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Uterine cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. Roughly 3% of women will be diagnosed in their lifetime, says the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It's also highly treatable when caught early, per Yale Medicine.

In other words, the prognosis is fairly good. Overall, 81% of people with uterine cancer can expect to live five years or more after getting diagnosed, says NCI. That number is an average. It factors in all stages of uterine cancer for large numbers of patients over a period of years. How any one person fares depends on a combination of factors.

Understanding Cancer Survival Rates

When data scientists look at cancer survival, they assess rates in a population. The survival rates they cite are merely averages. How any one person fares depends on a multitude of factors.

First, let's get clear on what we mean by survival rates. Put simply, cancer survival rates are how many people survive a certain type of cancer for a specific amount of time, explains the Mayo Clinic. Typically, survival rates cover a five-year period, meaning how many people are living five years after diagnosis.

These calculations are often expressed as a "relative survival rate." That's an estimate of the percentage of patients who would be expected to survive the effects of their cancer, says the NCI. Relative survival rates exclude the risk of dying from other causes, the NCI adds.

Uterine Cancer Rates by Stage

Uterine cancer survival rates vary by the stage of the cancer. Stage refers to how far the cancer has spread in the body at the time of diagnosis.

NCI categorizes uterine cancer by stage:

  • Localized. Cancer that is confined to the part of the body where it started
  • Regional. Cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • Distant. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body
  • Unknown. Cancer that hasn't been staged

Using population-based data, NCI calculates five-year relative survival rates. Here are the NCI estimates for uterine cancer by stage:

  • Localized: 94.9%
  • Regional: 69.3%
  • Distant: 17.8%
  • Unknown: 51.8%

In general, as the cancer becomes more advanced, survival declines. One reason: Cancer that is diagnosed at a late stage is likely a biologically aggressive form of cancer that is difficult to treat, Pamela Soliman, MD, professor and deputy chair of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells Health.

Moreover, once cancer has spread far enough in the body to be classified as a later-stage cancer, it's very challenging to cure, says Dr. Soliman. Equally difficult to cure are early-stage cancers that return after initial treatment, she says. At that point, the goal of treatment is to prolong life, explains Dr. Soliman.

Uterine Cancer Outcomes

Relative survival rates can be helpful in understanding larger trends, but patients should take them with a grain of salt. "One thing I tell patients is that you have to be a little bit careful with survival rates," says Dr. Soliman. "It's impossible for us to predict how long someone is going to survive."

Because survival statistics are averages based on large groups of people, they cannot be used to say exactly what will happen to individuals, says the NCI. Moreover, no two patients are exactly the same, and treatment and responses to treatment can vary greatly person-to-person, per the NCI.

What can be more helpful than survival rates, Dr. Soliman says, is for patients to understand the specific type of uterine cancer they have and whether it's easily treated, or if it has a high risk of recurring.

Understanding the stage of your cancer is important as well. For most early-stage uterine cancers, meaning cancers that are diagnosed before the cancer has spread outside the uterus, many women are cured with their initial treatment, says Dr. Soliman. Stage four uterine cancer, in which the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, is much harder to cure, Dr. Soliman says. But, she adds, people can survive.

Indeed, there are "very new and exciting advancements" in the treatment of metastatic endometrial cancer, Alison Schram, MD, attending physician in the early drug development and gynecologic medical oncology services at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, tells Health. These include new immunotherapies (cancer treatments that help your immune system fight cancer) and targeted treatments (treatments that use drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells).

The bottom line: Uterine cancer survival rates are estimates of how many people survive the disease for a specific amount of time. These estimates are averages based on the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed. While survival rates can help us make sense of larger disease trends, they shouldn't be taken as predictors of an individual's outcome. For the best sense of your uterine cancer prognosis, talk with your health care provider.

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