Cervical Cancer: Survival Rates and Prognosis
Before the 1960s, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. Today, the five-year survival rate for localized cervical cancer is 92%, which is good. It means a woman who has cervical cancer that has not spread is 92% as likely as a woman without that cancer to be alive at least five years from the time of diagnosis, and oftentimes much longer. (A low percentage means there is a low chance of survival.)
Survival rates vary depending on how advanced the cancer is at diagnosis, the affected individual’s overall health, and access to healthcare. Also, current five-year survival rates are based on past data comparing large numbers of people. Everyone’s situation is unique, and current treatment may translate to a better outcome.
Learn more about the factors affecting cervical cancer prognosis and survival rate.
Cervical Cancer Staging
Once cervical cancer has been detected, doctors stage the cancer, or assign it a number to signal the size of the tumor and whether or not it’s spread to other parts of the body. Cervical cancer staging helps healthcare providers quickly communicate important information about the cancer and plan appropriate treatment.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cervical cancer is subdivided into four stages:
Stage I: Stage I cervical cancer is confined to the cervix; it hasn’t spread anywhere else. The tumor may be larger than 4 centimeters (about 1.5 inches) but often is much smaller. The tumor also hasn’t penetrated deep into the cervical tissue.
Stage II: Stage II cervical cancer has spread into the upper 2/3 of the vagina (remember, the cervix is located at the bottom of the uterus, right where it meets the vagina) or into the tissue around the uterus.
Stage III: Stage III cervical cancer has spread to the lower 1/3 of the vagina, pelvic wall or lymph nodes, or caused kidney problems (generally, because the tumor has grown large enough to block the flow of urine).
Stage IV: Stage IV cervical cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the bladder, rectum or other parts of the body.
Prognosis is loosely correlated with cancer staging. Generally speaking, it is easier to treat and cure stage I cervical cancer than stage IV cervical cancer. However, it is impossible to predict with certainty how a specific individual will respond to treatment.
According to the National Cancer Institute and American Society of Clinical Oncology, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer confined to the cervix (stage I) is 92%; it’s 56% for cervical cancer that’s spread to the surrounding tissues and organs (stage II, III and early stage IV) and 17% for cervical cancer that has spread to a distant part of the body, such as the lungs.
Factors That Affect Cervical Cancer Prognosis
Other factors that affect an individual’s odds of surviving cervical cancer include:
Age and overall health. Young, healthy women are more likely to tolerate cervical cancer treatment (which may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) than older women and women with multiple pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
HPV status. There are more than 100 strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus known to cause cervical cancer. Some HPV strains are considered ‘high-risk’ because they are strongly correlated with cervical cancer, and some are considered ‘low-risk’ because they are not as likely to cause cervical cancer. Interestingly, a recent study found that women with cervical cancer from high-risk HPV types had a better prognosis than women with cervical cancer from a low-risk HPV type.
Reproductive status. If a woman is pregnant when she is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she may decide to delay treatment until after the baby is born, which could affect her outcome. A woman who hopes to become pregnant in the future may also decide against a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus), one of the surgeries used to treat cervical cancer, and pursue other treatment instead.
Access to care. Timely medical treatment is key to survival. Women who do not have health insurance, for instance, may delay diagnosis and treatment due to financial concerns, which can affect their odds of survival. Similarly, women who receive care at an academic medical center are likely to have access to top surgeons and the latest treatments via clinical trials, which may improve their prognosis.
Your healthcare team can help you understand your diagnosis, including cervical cancer staging and other factors that affect cervical cancer prognosis.