Breast cancer: late-stage survival estimates are “rarely accurate”

November 15, 2019 (Medical News Today) 

According to specialists, “single number average survival estimates for advanced stage breast cancer are unhelpful and usually inaccurate.”

While breast cancer, a disease that affects nearly 2.1 million women worldwide, is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, when it spreads, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain and treat.

Those especially with late-stage breast cancer want to know answers to questions like, “How long do I have?” so they can make the best decisions for their health situation.

Very recently, findings from Dr. Belinda Kiely, a cancer specialist from the University of Sydney in Australia, were presented in Lisbon, Portugal about the “relevance and helpfulness of cancer survival estimates for patients with late-stage breast cancer.”

According to her research, the typical approach of offering patients “a catch-all, single number estimate” is suggested to have little-to-no worth. Dr. Kiely says instead, single-number estimates about survival rates are only accurate around 20-30% of the time.

Dr. Kiely and her team worked with 33 cancer specialists all of whom were advising 146 patients about their estimated survival time. Dr. Kiely argues that it would be best for the patients to receive three different, case-specific estimates

While this method still requires a doctor to provide an estimated survival time, this time it will then be divided by four to uncover the worst-case scenario, then multiplied it by three to obtain an estimate of the best-case scenario.


91 percent of those who took part in the trial (146) reported finding the three-scenario method helpful. 88 percent felt the approach “allowed them to plan for the future and helped them better understand the possible outcomes.”

Importantly, as much as 77 percent of the participants reported they felt the three scenarios method was either equal to, or more optimistic and reassuring, than they had expected.

Dr. Kiely urges other healthcare professionals to use this method when advising their patients who are in the later stages of breast cancer.

Learn more about this new approach here.