Survival Rates for Esophageal Cancer

Survival rates can give you an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding of how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

Keep in mind that survival rates are estimates and are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had a specific cancer, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. These statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk with your doctor about how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation. 

What is a 5-year relative survival rate?

A relative survival rate compares people with the same type and stage of esophageal cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of esophageal cancer is 60%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 60% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed. 

Where do these numbers come from?

The American Cancer Society relies on information from the SEER* database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to provide survival statistics for different types of cancer. The SEER database tracks 5-year relative survival rates for esophageal cancer in the United States, based on how far the cancer has spread. The SEER database, however, does not group cancers by AJCC TNM stages (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3, etc.). Instead, it groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages:

  • Localized means that the cancer is only growing in the esophagus. This includes AJCC stage I and some stage II tumors (such as those that are T1, T2, or T3, N0, M0). Stage 0 cancers are not included in these statistics.
  • Regional means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues. This includes T4 tumors and cancers with lymph node spread (N1, N2, or N3).
  • Distant means that the cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes away from the main tumor, and includes all M1 (stage IV) cancers.

5-year relative survival rates for esophageal cancer

(Based on people diagnosed with esophageal cancer between 2008 and 2014.)

Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

45%

Regional

24%

Distant

5%

All SEER stages combined

19%

These survival rates do not separate squamous cell carcinomas from adenocarcinomas, although people with adenocarcinomas are generally thought to have a slightly better prognosis (outlook) overall.

Understanding the numbers

  • People now being diagnosed with esophageal cancer may have a better outlook than these numbers show. Treatments improve over time, and these numbers are based on people who were diagnosed and treated at least five years earlier.
  • These numbers apply only to the stage of the cancer when it is first diagnosed. They do not apply later on if the cancer grows, spreads, or comes back after treatment. 
  • These numbers don’t take everything into account. Survival rates are grouped based on how far the cancer has spread, but your age, overall health, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and other factors will also affect your outlook.

*SEER = Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2019. Atlanta, Ga: American Cancer Society; 2019.

Noone AM, Howlader N, Krapcho M, Miller D, Brest A, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2015, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2015/, based on November 2017 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2018.

Last Medical Review: June 14, 2017 Last Revised: January 31, 2019

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