Prognosis for inoperable pancreatic cancer

Some people want to know how long they may have left to live. This is called your prognosis, outlook or life expectancy.

The prognosis will be different for each person, and depends on several things. These include how far the cancer has spread, your general health, and what treatments you can have.

You may not want to know your prognosis. It’s up to you whether you find out or not. But if you want to know, talk to your doctor or nurse. They won’t be able to give you an exact timeframe, as everybody is different. But they should be able to give you an idea of what to expect.

There is a lot of information about pancreatic cancer online and not all of it is accurate or relevant to you. So it’s important to speak to your doctor about your own situation.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor or nurse


  • Do I have any more treatment options?
  • How long do I have left to live?
  • How accurate is my prognosis?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • I don’t want to know my prognosis, but can you tell me how my cancer will change?
  • What symptoms will I have? How can symptoms be managed?
  • What difference will it make to how well I feel if I decide to have chemotherapy? What happens if I don’t have chemotherapy?
  • What are the benefits of having treatment?
  • Are there any risks from treatment?
  • If I don’t have chemotherapy, are there other treatment options?
  • Is there anything I can do to help me live longer?
  • Can you speak to my family about my future if I give my permission?
  • If I don’t want to know my prognosis but my family do, can you speak to them in confidence, if I give my permission?

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer

Some people want to know about survival rates for pancreatic cancer. Survival rates are averages based on large groups of people with pancreatic cancer. They can’t tell you what will happen to you. But if you do want to know more about survival rates, you can click the link below.

You may find these statistics frightening or upsetting, so think carefully before looking at this information. You should also speak to your doctor about your own prognosis.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions about pancreatic cancer, prognosis, and for emotional support.

Survival for locally advanced and advanced pancreatic cancer


These survival rates are general statistics, based on large groups of people. They can’t tell you what will happen in your situation, so speak to your doctor if you want to know more about your prognosis.

The statistics here are for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. There is another type of cancer in the pancreas, called pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. You may hear this called a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour, pancreatic NET, PancNET or pNET. If you have been diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, speak to your doctor about your prognosis, as the statistics are different.

What do one year and five year survival mean?


The terms “one year survival” and “five year survival” mean the proportion of people who are still alive one year and five years after their cancer diagnosis. It doesn’t mean that this is how long you will live.

Five year survival for all pancreatic cancers (including all stages) in the UK is 7%. This means that 7 out of 100 people are alive, five years after their diagnosis. The survival statistics are low for pancreatic cancer compared to other cancers. This is partly because pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose. Many people are diagnosed at a late stage, when the cancer has spread and surgery to remove the cancer is not possible.

What are the survival rates for locally advanced pancreatic cancer?


One year survival for stage 3 pancreatic cancer in England is 36%. This means that 36 people out of 100 are still alive after one year. Stage 3 cancer is usually locally advanced cancer but it may occasionally be borderline resectable cancer.

If you have locally advanced cancer, the cancer has started to spread, which means that surgery is not usually possible. You may be able to have chemotherapy on its own or together with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy). This aims to shrink the cancer and slow down its growth. For a small number of people, this treatment may shrink the cancer enough to make surgery to remove the cancer possible.

 

What are the survival rates for advanced pancreatic cancer?


The one year survival for stage 4 pancreatic cancer in England is 8%. This means 8 out of 100 people will be alive, one year after their diagnosis. Stage 4 cancer is known as advanced or metastatic cancer. This means the cancer has spread outside the pancreas to other parts of the body, and surgery to remove it isn’t possible. Advanced cancer can sometimes grow and spread quickly.

If you are well enough, you may be offered chemotherapy. Chemotherapy will not cure the cancer, but it may help you to live longer. It may also help treat your symptoms. But it can cause side-effects, which can affect how you feel. You can also have other treatments to manage any symptoms.

Remember that these statistics are general figures. Speak to your doctor about your own prognosis – if you want to know this.

 

Remember that these statistics are general figures. Speak to your doctor about your own prognosis – if you want to know this.

Speak to our specialist nurses

We know that these statistics are frightening. You can speak to our nurses on our Support Line at any time to get support and find out more about prognosis.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Dianne

"I think the most difficult aspect of dealing with pancreatic cancer is the uncertainty that inevitably comes with it. But all of this has brought my family closer together."

Read other people's stories

Read about other people’s experiences of being diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, having treatment and dealing with symptoms.

Stories about inoperable cancer
Older man sat on a park bench with a female

Published November 2022

To be reviewed November 2025