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Multiple Myeloma: Prognosis (Outlook)

What is a prognosis?

Prognosis is the word your healthcare team may use to describe your likely outcome from cancer and cancer treatment. A prognosis is a calculated guess. 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’s up to you to decide how much you want to know. Some people find it easier to cope and plan ahead 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 healthcare provider 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 in your case. At the same time, you should keep in mind that your prognosis can change. Cancer and cancer treatment outcomes are hard to predict. For instance, a favorable prognosis (which means you’re likely going to do well) can change if the cancer spreads to key organs or doesn’t respond to treatment. An unfavorable prognosis can change, too. This can happen if treatment shrinks and controls the cancer so it doesn’t grow or spread.

What goes into a prognosis

When figuring out your prognosis, your healthcare provider will consider all the things that could affect the cancer and its treatment. He or she will look at risk estimates for the type and stage (extent) of the cancer you have. These estimates are based on what results researchers have seen over many years in other people with the same type and stage of cancer.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your healthcare provider will say you have a favorable prognosis. This means you’re expected to live many years. If your cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be less favorable. The cancer may shorten your life. It’s important to keep in mind that a prognosis states what’s likely or probable. It is not a prediction of what will definitely happen. No healthcare provider can be fully certain about an outcome.

Your prognosis depends mainly on:

  • The stage of the cancer

  • Your age and overall health

  • Your treatment decisions

  • How well your cancer responds to treatment

Understanding survival rates

Survival rates show what portion of people live for a certain length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are grouped for people with certain types and stages of cancer. Many times, the numbers used refer to the 5-year survival rate. That’s how many people are living 5 years after diagnosis. The survival rate includes:

  • People who are still being treated for their cancer

  • People who are not getting treatment for their cancer

What are the survival rates for multiple myeloma?

Here are the 5-year survival rates for multiple myeloma, according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • Overall, the 5-year survival rate for myeloma is about 48%.

  • For people whose cancer is found before it has spread beyond where it started (which is rare), the 5-year survival rate is about 70%.

  • Once myeloma has reached other parts of the body, the 5-year survival rate is about 47%. Most people with myeloma fall into this group.

These numbers are adjusted to account for the fact that some people with myeloma may die from other causes.

A number of other factors can affect these numbers. For instance, younger people tend to have better survival rates than older people.

Talk with your healthcare provider

You can ask your healthcare provider about survival rates and what you might expect. But remember that statistics are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to say what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike. Treatment and how well people respond to treatment vary.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 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.
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