As with most cancers, prostate cancer is diagnosed in stages, with an early stage diagnosis being more treatable than a late stage one, and something that will have a significant bearing on the prognosis (life expectancy) of the patient involved. However, there are also other factors that must be taken into consideration when estimating a patient's prognosis, such as: age, general health, previous medical history, etc.
The stages of prostate cancer can be broken down into four main groups, and further smaller more defined groups. Using the TNM staging system ("T" tumor size, "N" whether the cancer has metastasized [spread] to the lymph nodes, and "M" whether the cancer has metastasized to distant sites within the body) each stage: I, II , III, and IV can increment the possibility of a shorter prognosis for the prostate cancer patient.
Stage I – is where the cancer (tumor) is located within the prostate gland only, and has not yet metastasized outside the gland (tumor cannot yet be detected by a DRE (digital rectal scan).
Stage II – is where the tumor is located within the prostate gland only, has not yet metastasized, but has grown in size and can now be felt during a DRE.
Stage III – is where the tumor has metastasized outside the prostate gland and into the surrounding areas, although it has not yet reached nearby organs (detectable by a DRE).
Stage IV – is where the tumor has spread outside of the prostate gland, into the surrounding areas, to nearby organs, and to distant sites, such as: the bone and lymph nodes.
However, due to more successful treatment methods being available, the prognosis of many prostate cancer patients has been extended, and where it is estimated that around 95% of patients will live for another 5-years after diagnosis (when the tumor is localized [without metastasis evident, stages I – II]).
Although, where a localized tumor diagnosis has been given (stages I – II), and where either radiation therapy or surgery have been elected as a treatment method, it is estimated that the prognosis for 92% of patients will be extended to around 10 years or more, and where death will not be a direct result of the cancer.
Where the tumor has metastasized from the prostate gland into the surrounding areas and distant sites (bones and lymph nodes [stages III – IV]), the prognosis of the patient can be variable. However, it is estimated that around 50% of prostate cancer patients will have a prognosis of between 5 – 10 years.
Even in the later stage of stage IV where the patient's metastatic cancer has become hormone refractory (where the tumor stops responding to hormone deprivation therapy and resumes grow), the prognosis for many can be expected to be between 18 – 20 months (in some cases 2-years or more have been documented).
Note: The estimated prognosis' of prostate cancer patients are to be used as a guide only, as many other factors must be taken into consideration too (on an individual basis). The different factors may greatly reduce the estimated prognosis of a patient, or greatly extend it, and should not be taken as more than an estimated guide only.