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Can I Survive AML? What Is My Prognosis?

It may sound harsh to ask the question, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question on the minds of most people facing a diagnosis of leukemia. And hearing the answer can be just as hard as asking the question.

The chance that you will recover or have a recurrence depends upon how resistant your    leukemia cells are to treatment. It also depends upon your age and general health. 

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. Your doctor will then predict what seems likely to happen. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with leukemia. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to make a prediction.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the leukemia is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It is important to keep in mind, though, that a prognosis states what is probable. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.

Some people find it easier to cope when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistical information confusing and frightening. Or they might think it is too general to be useful. The doctor who is most familiar with your situation is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the leukemia progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It is up to you to decide how much you want to know.

What Does the 5-Year Survival Rate Mean?

Survival rates show the percentage of people who live for a specific length of time after being told they have leukemia. Survival rates are based on large groups of people. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular person. No 2 people are exactly alike, and treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly. Often, statistics refer to the 5-year survival rate, which is the percentage of people who live 5 years after diagnosis. The survival rate includes people at these different stages.

  • People who achieved a complete remission and have remained continuously free of disease and are likely cured.

  • People who have had a prior relapse but are currently in remission.

  • People who have active leukemia.

Many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis. Because the statistics we have for 5-year rates now are based on people diagnosed and first treated more than 5 years ago, it’s possible that the outlook could be more favorable today. That’s because of improvements in treatment. 

People who live 5 years without relapse of AML are usually cured.  Even people who have previously relapsed but who then achieve a second complete remission and remain in it for 5 years are likely to be cured.

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