Stage IV cancer is rarely curable, but there are exceptions
Most cancers are classified in stages from I to IV. Stage I is the earliest, and stage IV is the most advanced. Cancer is labeled stage IV when it is found not only in its original location but also in distant tissues and organs.
When cancer has metastasized to stage IV, treatments are rarely curative, although there are exceptions. Most treatment options are palliative and intended only to reduce pain and make the patient comfortable as opposed to eliminating the disease.
Not all stage IV cancers are terminal, however. How long patients can live with stage IV cancer varies depending on the specifics of each individual case and available treatment options. One patient’s stage IV cancer diagnosis does not necessarily mean it will come with the same prognosis as another patient’s diagnosis.
Also, even if the cancerous tumor has spread beyond the primary organ, there may still be a chance that the disease is limited to only a few sites in the body, which may be amenable to surgical treatment. A cure in these cases is therefore still possible.
What are the survival rates for common cancers in stage IV?
According to the American Cancer Society, patients whose breast cancer is detected while it is still in the localized form have a 5-year survival rate of 98%. However, patients with stages III and IV breast cancer have survival rates of 72% and 26%, respectively.
Skin cancer is the most common form of all types of cancer, and if found early, nearly 100% treatable, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The 5-year survival rate of patients with stage IV melanoma, however, is around 19%.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, the 5-year survival rate is 98.9% if the cancer is caught before it has spread beyond the prostate gland. The survival rate drops to about 28-30% if the cancer is detected at stage IV.
Also known as colorectal or bowel cancer, colon cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is also the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. because it is often not diagnosed early enough. The 5-year survival rate for stage IV colon cancer is 39%. For stage IV rectal cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 12%.
Most often found in young men between the ages of 15-45, testicular cancer is treatable 99.2% of the time when it is detected early. However, only 73.1% of patients are cancer-free after five years if their cancer is diagnosed after it has spread, especially in stage IV.
Occurring in the cells of the cervix, cervical cancer is slow-growing. Detecting cervical cancer while the lesions are precancerous leads to a near 100% survival rate according to the American Cancer Society. However, this rate drops to just 32% if the cancer is diagnosed in stage III, and 15-16% if diagnosed in stage IV.
Usually considered a very deadly cancer, lung cancer has a less than 5% survival rate if diagnosed in stage IV.
What treatment options are available for stage IV cancer?
Treatment for stage IV depends on the location of the cancer and the organs involved. The more widely the cancer has spread from the site where it was first diagnosed, the more difficult it becomes to treat. Patients diagnosed with stage IV or metastatic cancer may not survive long without treatment.
While chemotherapy can often kill a small number of cancer cells, it is usually less effective in eradicating a larger number of tumor cells present in widespread metastases. If the cancer has spread to only a few small areas, surgeons may be able to remove it to prolong the patient’s survival.
In most cases, treatment of stage IV cancer is aimed at prolonging patients’ survival and improving their quality of life.
Is there hope for stage IV cancer patients?
Advances in the field of medicine, especially in cancer research and technology in the last two decades, have shown that there is hope for the future.
Each year, new data emerges from a scope of technology that is ever-expanding and helping to provide patients with a new lease on life. However, like any new information, it’s important to evaluate it judiciously and be realistic about what is possible.
It’s also important to remember that there is still life after a cancer diagnosis, even if it is in stage IV.