Understanding diagnosis

Prognosis

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you may have questions about how serious the cancer is. Doctors use the term “prognosis” to describe the chance of cure, and if it is not curable, how quickly the tumour may grow and how long you may live.

Although the type, place and stage of your cancer help your doctor to estimate your prognosis, many things affect how a cancer grows or reacts to treatment.

Every patient is different so your healthcare team cannot say for sure what will happen with your cancer. If a head and neck cancer is going to come back (recur) it usually does so within the first few years after treatment. Sometimes it can be much quicker (months) or longer (many years). Your healthcare team will continue to check on your health for at least 5 years.

Some people want to know information about their prognosis, some do not. It is important that you discuss with your doctor and healthcare team the information that you would like to know.

If you need help understanding information about your prognosis and what it means for you, you may find it helpful to speak with people in similar situations to your own. Your healthcare team will be able to put you in touch with patient support groups, in your area or online.
You can also get support from the Cancer Council Information and Support hotline by calling 13 11 20 or visiting the Cancer Council online: www.cancer.org.au