Some women suffering from breast cancer refuse treatment. Some choose faith in a higher power over medicine, some feel the treatment will be worse than the disease, others may distrust the medical establishment.
Predictions are not exact
Doctors cannot be expected to give an exact prognosis. When a woman is diagnosed as being at an advanced stage of breast cancer, her doctor may tell her that she has mere months to live, but a variety of factors could result in an individual living longer than expected.
According to a Mayo Clinic website discussing the staging of breast cancer, the staging of breast cancer is a way of measuring how large a breast cancer tumor is and how far the cancer has spread. A beginning stage I diagnoses is indicative of a small tumor that has not begun to spread throughout the body while a potentially terminal stage IV is an advanced cancer that may have spread to vital organs or large swaths of tissue. A stage I diagnoses has a high survival rate when treated. If left untreated, a less advanced staging is a less certain indicator of life expectancy. Similarly, stage IV cancer has a drastically lower survivability rate, and it does not improve without treatment.
According to the U.S. government's National Cancer institute, the survival rate over 5 years for those with localized cancer, that is cancer that has not spread from where it originated, is at 98 percent. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes (glands near the neck, armpits and groin that filter and transport certain fluids), the survival rate for the five years is at 83.6 percent. Once the cancer has spread throughout the body to larger sections of tissue or vital origins, the survivability rate declines to 23.4 percent. It can be assumed that most of the people who make up these statistics were receiving treatment, so life expectancy will be lower for those who are not.
Race seems to play a role in the survivability of breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five year survivability was 90.2 percent for white women and 77.5 percent for black women. Of course, the vast majority of women in both groups were receiving treatment.
A Small Study
A study by Drs. Peter A.S. Johnstone and Marilyn S. Norton, and Robert H. Riffenburgh, PhD., of 250 untreated breast cancer patients found that the median survival time was 2.7 years. They also studied the data on 1,022 untreated patients in other studies, and found a median survival time of 2.3 years.
Regressions are rare
In a few rare cases, women suffering from advanced breast cancer have experienced regressions. According to a CNN report, there are only 32 documented cases of this phenomenon.When speaking of cancer, regression means the size of a tumor has gotten smaller or that the amount of cancer in the body is reduced. This does not change the fact that people with a cancer diagnosis are still advised to seek treatment.
- Early Stage Breast Cancer-Frequently Asked Questions
- Wiley Interscience: Survival of patients with untreated breast cancer
- Can some cancer tumors regress if left untreated?
- Definition of regression National Cancer Institute Dictionary of Cancer Terms
- National Cancer Institute Surviellance Epidemiology and End Results
Ray Ray Montoya is the son of two English majors and has himself followed suit. He received his bachelor's degree from Northern Michigan University in 2006 and two years later received his M.A. from the same institution. He currently teaches at a community college in Michigan and writes for various websites.