What Is the Survival Rate of Stage 4 Cancer?

Survival rate for stage 4 cancer depends on factors like the cancer types, treatments, patient's health condition, etc. Work with your doctor for better results.

When one is diagnosed to have Stage IV cancer, the immediate concern is if the person will be able to survive the disease. This concern, also medically known as the prognosis, depends on many factors, including availability of treatment and one's general health condition. Knowing what stage one's cancer is mostly determines his probability of surviving based on research. Cancer staging therefore helps the doctor to advise the patient about his condition and what forms of treatment are suitable, and to predict his survival rate in the next few years.

Cancer survival rate refers to the percentage of patients afflicted with a certain form of cancer who survive the disease for a specified amount of time. Statistics often refer to a five-year period where scientific surveys on these patients are based, although these data do not specify whether the patients are still undergoing treatment or are completely cancer-free after five years. An over-all five-year survival rate of 80% would mean that for every 100 patients with the disease, 80 would probably live for at least another five years, and 20 would probably not survive this period of time.

Stage 4 Cancer Survival Rate

A patient whose cancer cells have invaded other organs aside from its origin is said to be in Stage IV cancer, which usually carries a grim prognosis compared to earlier stages of the disease. The five-year survival rate for patients in this stage may depend on different factors such as the type of cancer he has, his overall general health, the type of treatment used and the patient's will power to overcome the disease. As mentioned above, the five-year survival rate is expressed as the percentage of patients who will probably live up to 5 years after diagnosis of the disease based on research on patients with the same type and stage of cancer. A 60% 5-year survival rate therefore indicates that it is estimated that 60 out of every 100 patients will live for 5 years after diagnosis while the rest (40 of 100) will probably die. This is just an estimate and not an exact number, since many factors influence the progress of one's disease. The following is a summary of the 5-year survival rates of different types of stage 4 cancer based on research:

Cancer Type

5-Year Survival Rate (%)






Primary Tumor

Secondary Tumor




less than 20%













Cancer Staging

Cancer stage has a lot of influence on survival rate, since higher survival rates are usually associated with earlier stages of the disease. To describe one's cancer stage physicians use the TNM Staging System which uses criteria that are similar for different types of cancer except malignancies in the brain and blood.

TNM Staging System

The TNM classification system of cancer describes the tumor size (T) and degree of invasion, the involvement of regional lymph nodes (N) and the presence of spread or metastasis (M) to distant parts of the body. Different degrees of tumor size or invasion, involvement of lymph nodes and spread to other organs are further specified in numbers to describe in more detail the stage of malignancy. For instance, a tumor described as T1 is much smaller and confined than a tumor that is described as T4.

Cancer staging depends on a combination of the three parameters (tumor size, lymph node involvement and spread of disease). A Stage I cancer therefore is a localized stage of malignancy, where a tumor is relatively small, has not invaded surrounding tissues or spread to other organs. On the other hand, cancer which is in Stage IV may have a tumor of any size, may have affected the lymph nodes and has definitely spread to other distant organs such as the brain, liver or bones.

Purpose of Staging

Cancer staging is a helpful tool for physicians in advising their patients about their options for treatment. A patient with Stage I may need less aggressive treatment than a patient with Stage II cancer, but a patient with Stage IV cancer may choose to have supportive therapy rather than radical procedures.

The doctor may also help the patient in predicting the outcome of the disease with or without treatment according to research-based statistics. This includes prediction of one's 5-year survival rate, which may also help the patient choose a treatment option which suits his preferences.

Stages of Cancer

Most types of cancer are classified into four stages, with an additional Stage 0 to distinguish those forms that may later lead to cancer ("pre-cancer" stage).

To understand the discussion of the stages of cancer in more detail, we shall refer to this diagram which illustrates the progression of the disease:

Stage 0. Alsoknown as carcinoma in situ (CIS), this is an early form of cancer where there is a flat lesion with no invasion of malignant cells into the surrounding tissue. Although this can develop into full blown cancer some doctors do not consider this as cancer but "pre-cancer."

Stage I. Tumors in this stage are usually smaller than 2 centimeters (cm) and are localized to the part of the body where it originated. Lymph nodes are not affected and there is no sign of spread elsewhere.

Stage II. Tumors in this stage measure 2-5 cm but are still localized since they have not invaded other tissues or spread to distant sites. Local lymph nodes may be affected. They are considered to be locally advanced tumors.

Stage III. Tumors in this stage are fairly large, measuring more than 5 cm. This late, locally advanced stage affects lymph nodes nearby and it may be difficult to differentiate from stage II cancer.

Stage IV. Tumors in this stage may be of any size, affecting nearby lymph nodes and showing evidence of spread (metastasis) to other organs or regions of the body. A secondary cancer may develop during this stage. The overall physical and mental health of the patient may be affected and survival rate is very low.


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