Survival Rates for Esophageal Cancer by Stage

Survival rates tell you what portion 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 about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer type and stage, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year survival rates, but many people live longer than 5 years. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 90% means that an estimated 90 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.

Relative survival rates are a more accurate way to estimate the effect of cancer on survival. These rates compare people with colorectal cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific type and stage of cancer is 90%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 90% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

But remember, the 5-year relative survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on many factors specific to you.

Cancer survival rates don’t tell the whole story

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors must look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with esophageal cancer may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
  • These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
  • The outlook for people with esophageal cancer varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are better for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to his or her circumstances.

Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your situation.

The numbers below come from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, looking at people diagnosed with esophageal cancer between 2007 and 2013. The SEER database doesn’t divide survival rates by AJCC TNM stage. Instead, it divides cancers into 3 larger, summary stages:

  • Localized means that the cancer is only growing in the esophagus. It 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 tumor, and includes all M1 (stage IV) cancers.

Stage

5-Year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

43%

Regional

23%

Distant

5%

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

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen with any specific person. Knowing the type and the stage of a person’s cancer is important in estimating their outlook. But many other factors are also important, such as the treatment received, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and a person’s overall health. Even when taking these other factors into account, survival rates are at best rough estimates. Your doctor can tell you how well these numbers may apply to you, as he or she knows your situation best.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Joint Committee on Cancer. AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. 7th ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2010:103–111.

Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Miller D, Bishop K, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z, Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2014, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, https://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2014/, based on November 2016 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER web site, April 2017.

Kleinberg L, Kelly R, Yang S, Wang JS, Forastiere AA. Chapter 74 – Cancer of the Esophagus. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.

Posner MC, Minsky B, Ilson DH. Chapter 45 - Cancer of the esophagus. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott-Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

Last Medical Review: June 14, 2017 Last Revised: June 14, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.