Understandably, the first question that many patients ask after a cancer diagnosis is ‘what is the prognosis?’.
This can be a difficult question for doctors to answer. No statistics will tell you what will happen in your case. They can only give you an idea of what happens in general.
What outcomes depend on
How well someone does after a cancer diagnosis depends on a number of different things – which is why you can’t assume that statistics apply to you as an individual. It will depend on:
- how early the cancer is diagnosed, how big it is and where it’s growing
- the treatment you have, for example whether the cancer can be removed
- your age and general health and fitness, as this affects the treatment you have and how well you cope with it
With HCC, the outcome is also linked to whether you have any other sort of liver disease and how well your liver is working. The best way to make sense of the figures and how they relate to you is to talk to your own specialist.
What you need to know about statistics
Statistics are put together looking at large groups of people and recording how they do. For rarer cancers, the stats are based on smaller numbers, simply because fewer people have the condition. Because they’re based on smaller numbers, they may not be as accurate. So it’s fine to look for outcome stats. But do remember that they are only ever a guide.
Below there are statistics on survival after a diagnosis of HCC. Think carefully about whether you want to know this before reading further. Sometimes, people look for statistics for reassurance and then could be upset because the figures aren’t as good as some more common cancers you hear about.
Of course, some people do very well after HCC treatment. The way cancers behave and the response to treatment varies a great deal between people. Even if the figures aren’t what you’d hoped for, they are only an average and you may do a lot better. Generally speaking though, HCC diagnosed at a fairly advanced stage, or in people who already have liver damage from other conditions, is less likely to be controlled for long periods.
Finally, remember that survival statistics are always looking back at what happened in the past. Treatment for cancer is improving all the time, so patients diagnosed now may do better than patients diagnosed some years ago.
Survival by stage
Because there are several different staging systems for HCC, there are survival figures based on each system, which makes things rather confusing. Below are figures based on the Barcelona staging your specialist is most likely to use.
Barcelona stage figures
These figures are the most recent we have for Barcelona staging. They were produced around 10 years ago, so you can expect the picture today to be somewhat better.
With treatment, between 70 and 90% of people live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Without treatment, they could expect to live for more than 3 years.
With treatment, between 50 and 70 people out of 100 (50-70%) live for at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Without treatment, they could expect to live for around 3 years.
With treatment, around half of those diagnosed with this stage of HCC live for more than 2 years after their diagnosis. Without treatment, they could expect to live for around a year and a half.
With treatment, around half of those diagnosed with this stage of HCC live for more than 6 -12 months. Without treatment, people with this stage of HCC may live for only around 8 months on average.
Because of advanced liver damage, this group has the worst outlook. People with this stage of HCC may only live for around 4 months on average.
Content last reviewed: October 2022
Next review date: October 2025