What is my prognosis?
One of the first questions a woman asks after learning she has breast cancer is:
“Am I going to live?” Or, in other words, ” What is my prognosis?” When a woman asks her physician this basic question, she is often frustrated with the vagueness of the response. The problem is that the treating physician does not have enough information following the initial biopsy to make an accurate prediction of survival. Until the tumor and lymph nodes have been removed and analyzed, an accurate prediction of survival is not possible. Learn more about pathology reports.
The most important predictors of survival are the size of the invasive component of the tumor, and the status of the regional lymph nodes. When there is no invasive tumor present (i.e. only ductal carcinoma in-situ, or DCIS), the survival rate is 100%. When the invasive tumor is less than 11 mm in diameter and the nodes are negative, the 10-year survival approaches 95%.
As the tumor enlarges and the number of involved lymph nodes increases, the potential for cure is reduced. However, dramatic improvements have been made in the medical treatment of breast cancer (i.e. chemotherapy and hormone therapy), and many new treatments are on the horizon. There is now reason for optimism in even the most advanced cases. This is why the coordination of your care with a medical oncologist is very important.
The time that elapses before a woman is informed about the details of her prognosis is typically 7-14 days after the removal of the tumor and the under arm lymph node(s). It usually takes this long to analyze the tumor and to receive a pathology report on the various tumor markers that also influence prognosis. A woman and her family will usually have a detailed consultation with the oncologist to discuss her prognosis, and more importantly, what steps should be taken to maximize her chances of survival. After this detailed discussion, a woman chooses the option that is best for her.