Can I Survive CLL? What Is My Prognosis?

A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may seem hard to ask, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most people have when they learn they have leukemia.

Your chance of recovery depends on a number of things:

  • The type of leukemia

  • The stage of the cancer 

  • How quickly it is likely to grow

  • Your age and general health

  • How you respond to treatment

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with leukemia. When possible, the doctor 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 doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the leukemia is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It is important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor 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, not useful, and frightening. The doctor 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. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the leukemia progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. 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 the percentage of people with a certain type of leukemia who survive for a certain period of time after they are diagnosed. A 5-year survival rate refers to people who live at least 5 years after they are diagnosed. 

The 5-year survival rate for leukemia varies, depending on a number of factors, including your age and the subtype of chronic lymphocytic leukemia you have:

  • The relative 5-year survival rate for CLL from 2003 to 2009 was approximately 83%.

  • The current 5-year survival rate for CLL in adults who are newly diagnosed may be higher due to the introduction of new drugs to treat this disease in the last several years.

Talk with your doctor if you want to find out about your prognosis.