What does "prognosis" mean?

Submitted on Thursday October 8th, 2015
hospice & palliative carecenter

It's natural to wonder how bad a serious condition is. Will treatment be effective? The prediction of recovery, in medical terms, is called a "prognosis."

Many conditions are difficult to predict. Cancers, on the other hand, run a fairly expectable course. A cancer prognosis, for instance, depends on

  • the cancer. What type of cancer is it? What is its stage (size)? Grade (aggressiveness)? Where is it?
  • the patient. What is the person's age and general health? How likely is he or she to bounce back from the stress of treatment? 

A doctor can estimate treatment outcome by comparing your relative's situation with the statistics of others in similar circumstances. 

Prognosis is most often described in terms of survival rates five years after diagnosis. For example, the doctor might say that people who undergo a particular treatment have an 87% five-year survival rate. That means that 87 of every 100 patients who receive that treatment are still alive five years afterward.

At best, a prognosis is an educated guess. It's an average across a lot of people. Bear in mind, no two people respond in exactly the same way to any one treatment.

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