Survival Rates for Pancreatic 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 pancreatic cancer to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of pancreatic cancer is 50%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 50% 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 pancreatic 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: There is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the pancreas. This includes stage 0, I, and IIA cancers.
  • Regional: The cancer has spread from the pancreas to nearby structures or lymph nodes. This includes mainly stage IIB and III cancers.
  • Distant: The cancer has spread to distant parts of the body such as the lungs, liver or bones. For pancreatic cancer, this includes stage IV cancers.

5-year relative survival rates for pancreatic cancer

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

SEER Stage

5-year Relative Survival Rate

Localized

34%

Regional

12%

Distant

3%

All SEER stages combined

9%

Understanding the numbers

  • 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, tumor grade, extent of resection, level of tumor marker (CA 19-9) and other factors will also affect your outlook.
  • People now being diagnosed with pancreatic 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.

*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: March 14, 2016 Last Revised: February 6, 2019

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

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. These numbers 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, and some people won’t.

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. 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.

Remember that all survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.

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 have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with pancreatic 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 pancreatic cancer varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer – in general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as their 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.

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.

The numbers below come from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, looking at people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between 2008 and 2014. 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 pancreas.This usually includes Stage 0 and I cancers).
  • Regional means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues. This typically includes Stage II and III cancers.
  • Distant means that the cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes away from the tumor, and includes all stage IV cancers.

In general, people who can be treated with surgery tend to live longer than those not treated with surgery.

Stage 5-Year Relative Survival Rate
Localized 34%
Regional 12%
Distant 3%