Can I Survive Kidney 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 kidney cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer.

The chance that you will recover or have a recurrence depends on the type, grade, and stage of the cancer, as well as on the tumor's location and size. It also depends on your age, general health, and response 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 your type of cancer. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable 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 doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.

Coping with my prognosis and with statistics about the cancer I have

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 may think it is too general to be useful. 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 over time. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer 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. If you want statistical information, ask your medical team for the most reliable, up-to-date resources. 

What does the five-year survival rate mean?

Survival rates describe the percentage of people who live for a specific period of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are specific to people with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often, statistics refer to the five-year survival rate. That’s the percentage of people who are alive five years after diagnosis. The five-year rate includes people who:

  • Are free of disease

  • Have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • Are still undergoing treatment for cancer

Many of these people live much longer than five years after diagnosis. Because the statistics we have for five-year rates are based on people diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be better today. Recently diagnosed people often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment.

Survival rates are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular person. No two people are exactly alike, and treatment, as well as responses to treatment, can vary greatly.