Stomach Cancer: What Is My Prognosis or Chance of Recovery?

The five-year survival rate can give you an idea but not a definite answer

What Is My Chance of Recovering From Stomach Cancer?
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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with stomach cancer, it's normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed—it's a heartwrenching experience, but you are not alone.

One of the best ways to move forward with a diagnosis of cancer is to gain an understanding of your cancer, like if or how far your cancer has spread, the benefits and downsides of treatment, and what your prognosis (chance of recovery) is.

When discussing your stomach cancer prognosis, you or your loved one's doctor will most likely tell you the five-year survival rate for stomach cancer (the percentage of people with stomach cancer who live five or more years after diagnosis).

Five-Year Survival Rates for Stomach Cancer

After being diagnosed with stomach cancer, 30 percent of people survive five years or more. These five-year survival rates (based on cancer stage) are taken from the National Cancer Institute's SEER database—SEER stands for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results.

That said, it's essential to understand this percentage takes into account everyone with stomach cancer, regardless of their cancer stage—and the stage of stomach cancer can drastically affect prognosis. In fact, the higher your stomach cancer stage at the time of diagnosis, the worse the survival rate, so the worse your prognosis.

To clarify, the stages of stomach cancer are based on how far the tumor has spread within the layers of the stomach, and whether or not the cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes and/or tissues or organs outside of the stomach.

Stage I Stomach Cancer

Stage 1 stomach cancer is divided into stage 1A and stage IB:

Stage 1A Stomach Cancer

Stage 1A means the cancer has not spread into the main muscular layer of the stomach wall (called the muscularis propia), lymph nodes, or other organs in the body.

The five-year survival rate for stage IA stomach cancer is 71 percent, meaning 71 percent of people diagnosed with stage IA stomach cancer survive five years or more.

On the flip side, 29 percent (100 to 71 percent) of people diagnosed with stage 1A stomach cancer live for less than five years.

Stage 1B Stomach Cancer

Stage IB means the cancer has either spread to one or two nearby lymph nodes or spread into the main muscular layer of the stomach wall.

The five-year survival rate for stage 1B stomach cancer is 57 percent.

Stage II Stomach Cancer

Stage II stomach cancer is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB.

Stage IIA Stomach Cancer

Stage IIA means the cancer has done one of three things:

  • Spread to three to six nearby lymph nodes.
  • Spread to the main muscular layer of the stomach wall and one or two nearby lymph nodes.
  • Spread to no lymph nodes or other tissues or organs, but the cancer has grown through the main muscle layer of the stomach wall into the subserosa (the thin layer between the main muscle layer of the stomach and the outside membrane of the stomach called the serosa).

The five-year survival rate for stage IIB stomach cancer is 46 percent.

Stage IIB Stomach Cancer

A doctor will diagnose stage IIB stomach cancer if one of the following four things occurs:

  • The cancer has spread to seven or more nearby lymph nodes but not into the main muscular layer.
  • The cancer has spread to three to six nearby lymph nodes, in addition to the main muscular layer.
  • The cancer has spread through the main muscular layer into the subserosa layer, in addition to  one or two nearby lymph nodes.
  • The cancer has spread into the outer covering of the stomach (called the serosa) but not to any nearby lymph nodes.

The five-year survival rate for stage IIB stomach cancer is 33 percent.

Stage III Stomach Cancer

Stage III Stomach Cancer is subdivided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC.

Stage IIIA Stomach Cancer

With stage IIIA, the cancer has either:

  • Spread into the main muscular layer of the stomach wall and seven or more nearby lymph nodes.
  • Spread into the subserosal layer of the stomach and three to six lymph nodes.
  • Spread into the serosa and one or two nearby lymph nodes.

The five-year survival rate for stage IIIA stomach cancer is 20 percent.

Stage IIIB Stomach Cancer

With stage IIIB, the cancer has either:

  • Spread to seven or more nearby lymph nodes, but not into the serosa.
  • Spread to the serosa and three to six nearby lymph nodes (no other tissues or organs)
  • Spread through the serosa into nearby organs (for example, the spleen, intestines, liver, pancreas, or major blood vessels) and possibly one or two nearby lymph nodes.

The five-year survival rate for stage IIIB stomach cancer is 14 percent.

Stage IIIC Stomach Cancer

In Stage IIIC stomach cancer, the cancer has grown into the serosa and has spread to seven or more nearby lymph nodes.

Alternatively, the stomach cancer has spread to nearby organs and three or more nearby lymph nodes.

The five-year survival rate for stage IIIC stomach cancer is 9 percent.

Stage IV Stomach Cancer

Stage IV means the cancer has spread to organs that are far away from the stomach like the liver, lungs, brain, or bones—this is called metastatic stomach cancer.

The five-year survival rate for stage IV stomach cancer is 4 percent.

What to Keep in Mind When Looking at These Statistics

While these statistics give you a sense of you or your loved one's cancer prognosis, there are a few caveats to keep in mind.

Survival Rates Are Based on Research

Survival rates are based on studies with a large number of patients, so a survival rate cannot 100 percent predict any one person's prognosis.

A five-year-survival rate of 70 percent may sound dismal, but the truth is that you very well may live a whole lot longer than five years. Some people are even cured of their stomach cancer. This is most likely when the cancer is found at an early stage. Unfortunately, stomach cancer is often not found until it's more advanced.

The take-home message here is that the five-year survival rate for stomach cancer is simply a statistic—it's meant to guide you and your doctor, so you have an idea of what to expect, but it's not supposed to be taken as a hard and fast rule.

Survival Rates Are Not the Only Predictors

When accessing your stomach cancer prognosis, your doctor will consider other factors like your physical health outside of your cancer, the specific treatment plan you are undergoing, and the location of the tumor within your stomach.

Survival Rates Do Not Include Death From Other Causes

It's possible that a person dies from a completely different health condition or situation (for example, a car accident) after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. These survival rates do not take into account death from other causes.

Survival Rates Improve Over Time

In order to come up with a five-year survival rate percentage, researchers have to study people with stomach cancer for at least five years—and a lot can happen in that time, like improved (and new) cancer treatments (for example, chemotherapies or immunotherapies).

Survival Rates Are Based on Specific Therapies

These five-year survival rates from the National Cancer Institute are based on people who were treated with surgery for their stomach cancer. This means a person either has part or all of their stomach removed. If someone opts to not have surgery, their survival rate is likely to be lower.

A Word From Verywell

While these percentages may give you an idea of you or your loved one's stomach cancer prognosis, be sure to discuss your unique situation with your doctor.

Ask lots of questions and do not hesitate to inquire about more complex or sensitive issues as well, like healing from surgery, side effects of chemotherapy, pain management, or what happens if you do not get treatment.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2016). Survival Rates for Stomach Cancer

Edge SB, Compton CC. The American Joint Committee on Cancer: the 7th edition of the AJCC cancer staging manual and the future of TNM. Ann Surg Oncol. 2010 Jun;17(6):1471-4.

National Cancer Institute. Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program. Cancer Stat Facts: Stomach Cancer.

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