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My Doctor Says I’m in Remission. Does That Mean My Cancer Is Cured?

If you’re being treated for cancer, hearing that you are in remission is good news. It means your cancer treatments are working and the signs and symptoms of cancer are decreasing. But you’ll hear different terminology when people talk about cancer recovery. Here’s what you might hear, and what the terms mean:

  • Partial remission means you have fewer signs or symptoms of cancer
  • Complete remission means you have no signs or symptoms of cancer
  • Cancer-free means you have been in complete remission for five years

Different factors play into how likely you are to be in remission and to eventually be cancer-free. How soon your cancer is detected is critical.

“The earlier the cancer is diagnosed the better the chance a person has at reaching remission,” said Sandra Olvera, a family nurse practitioner in medical oncology at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at Banner Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, AZ. “With earlier diagnosis and effective cancer treatment, patients increase their likelihood of achieving remission.”

Different types of cancers have different odds for survival. Certain types of breast and prostate cancers, for example, have survival rates of 90 percent. But certain lung cancers have very low survival rates.

Why is the five-year marker so important?

Researchers have used a five-year timeframe for decades to calculate survival rates for people with cancer. “Once you have reached five years of survival without any sign of disease, it is believed that your cancer has been successfully treated,” Olvera said.

It’s a milestone and a positive sign, but it’s not a guarantee. “There is always a risk for recurrence,” Olvera said. “That is why you must be proactive in your health care by working closely with your oncology and survivorship care teams to ensure you do all that you can to stay cancer-free.”

How can I improve my odds of remission?

Reaching the remission stage, and eventually being cancer-free, depends on a lot of factors. However, there are things you can do in your daily life to help increase your odds. Olvera suggested you focus on four things:

  • Diet: Choose a plant-based diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruits, and limit processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and sugar.
  • Exercise: Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. “Participating in a physical activity you enjoy is most effective in sticking to an exercise routine,” Olvera said. Of course, check with your doctor before you start a new exercise program.
  • Sleep: Aim for 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep per night. Avoid electronics before bed and limit caffeine and alcohol since they disrupt your sleep.
  • Stress management: Keep stress to a minimum to maintain a healthy immune system. Try yoga, massage, music, meditation, and positive thinking. Avoid treating stress with cigarette smoking, drug use, or excessive alcohol.

The bottom line

During and after treatment for cancer, you may find yourself in partial remission, complete remission, or eventually, cancer-free. As you navigate through your cancer journey, work closely with your oncology and survivorship teams to connect with their support.

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