Liver Cancer

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Survival rates for liver cancer

Survival rates are often used by doctors as a standard way of discussing a person's prognosis (outlook). Some patients might want to know the survival statistics for people in similar situations, while others may not find the numbers helpful, or may even not want to know them. If you do not want to read about the survival statistics for liver cancer, skip to the next section.

The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many of these people live much longer than 5 years. Five-year relative survival rates, such as the numbers below, assume that some people will die of other causes and compare the observed survival with that expected for people without the cancer. This is a more accurate way to describe the prognosis for patients with a particular type and stage of cancer.

To get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. Although the numbers below are among the most current we have available, improvements in treatment since then may result in a more favorable outcome for people now being diagnosed with liver cancer.

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they cannot predict what will happen to any particular person. Knowing the type and the stage of a person's cancer is important in estimating their outlook. But many other factors may also affect a person's outcome, such as a person's overall health (especially whether or not they have cirrhosis), the treatment received, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. Even when taking these other factors into account, survival rates are rough estimates at best. Your doctor can tell you how and if the numbers below apply to you.

The numbers below come from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, and are based on patients who were diagnosed with liver cancer (hepatocellular type) between 2003 and 2009.

The SEER database does not divide liver cancer survival rates by AJCC TNM stages. Instead, it groups cancer cases into summary stages:

  • Localized means the cancer is still confined to the liver, and includes stages I, II, and some stage III cancers. This includes a wide range of cancers, some of which are easier to treat than others.
  • Regional means the cancer has grown into nearby organs or has spread to nearby lymph nodes, and includes stages IIIC and IVA cancers.
  • Distant means that the cancer has spread to distant organs or tissues and is the same as stage IVB.

    Stage

    5-year Relative Survival Rate

    Localized

    28%

    Regional

    7%

    Distant

    2%

For all stages combined, the relative 5-year survival rate from liver cancer is about 15%. Part of the reason for this low survival rate is that most patients with liver cancer also have other liver problems such as cirrhosis, which itself can be fatal.

In general, survival rates are higher for people who can have surgery to remove their cancer, regardless of the stage. For example, studies have shown that patients with small, resectable tumors who do not have cirrhosis or other serious health problems are likely to do well if their cancers are removed. Their overall 5-year survival is over 50%. For people with early-stage liver cancers who have a liver transplant, the 5-year survival rate is in the range of 60% to 70%.


Last Medical Review: 11/18/2014
Last Revised: 12/05/2014