Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer: Prognosis

What is a prognosis?

A prognosis is a calculated guess about how or whether a person will recover from a disease. 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 is up to you to decide how much you want to know. 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 statistics confusing and frightening. Or they might think statistics are too general to be useful.

A doctor 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 for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if a treatment is successful.

What goes into a prognosis

Your doctor will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. Your doctor will look at risk estimates about the cancer. These are based on what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with nonmelanoma skin cancer.  When possible, your doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to estimate your prognosis.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. It is important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely happen. No doctor can be fully certain about an outcome.

Your chance of recovery depends on:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • The stage of the disease

  • Your overall health

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 for people with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often statistics 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 cancer

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

  • People who are getting cancer treatment

What are the survival rates for nonmelanoma skin cancer?

Nonmelanoma skin cancer is very common, and few people die from it. But it might come back (recur), and need more treatment. Or you might develop another skin cancer somewhere else. 

Nonmelanoma skin cancers do not have to be reported to cancer registries. Because of this, researchers can only estimate statistics about these cancers. The most recent estimates of nonmelanoma skin cancer include:

  • More than 2 million people will be diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer this year.

  • About 2,000 people will die from nonmelanoma skin cancer each year.

Source:  American Cancer Society (ACS)

Talking with your health care provider

You can ask your health care provider about survival rates and other information. Remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to you. No 2 people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment varies.