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Straight Talk on How to Understand Your Cancer Prognosis


Cancer DiagnosisWhen you learn you have cancer, the one thing you want to know is, “What is my prognosis?” — meaning, what is the likely outcome? Often, there’s no simple answer. And if you feel like you’re drowning in medical terminology, that’s completely normal.

We talked with oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD, to help sort through the vocabulary that goes along with a cancer diagnosis. His answers may help give you a better understanding of your condition and its outlook.

Q: What is the difference between cure and remission?
A: Being cured means you undergo treatment and the disease never comes back. The therapy has absolutely taken care of the disease.

We usually put a five-year time frame on that. If you’ve had no recurrence in five years, we consider that cured.

With remission, you’ve had therapy, and the tumor is gone or decreased in size. We have gotten an optimal response, but we don’t know yet whether it will return. Here, we are keeping you under observation and we acknowledge that at some point we may have to treat your disease again.

Q: What are the goals of cancer treatments like chemotherapy?