Why Do Some Cancers Have Low Survival Rates?

Certain cancers have a lower survival rate than others. There are many factors that may play a role in survival. Some cancers are not easily found until they’ve grown or spread. Finding cancer at an earlier stage, before it spreads, can make it easier to treat and offer a person a greater chance of successfully beating the disease. Access to or disparities in healthcare make a difference in patient outcomes. Also, some cancers have fewer treatment options because they are extremely rare and scientists have not yet found therapies that work. The V Foundation is working to change the outcomes for many of these cancers and reduce disparities in cancer and cancer research.

Cancers with Low Survival Rates

Cancer survival rates are often talked about in terms of five-year or 10-year blocks of time. A five-year survival rate means that a person is still alive five years after their cancer diagnosis; and a 10-year survival rate means that a person has survived for a decade following their diagnosis. However, surviving five or even 10 years is not necessarily a guarantee that a person’s cancer is cured or that it won’t return later.

Cancers with the lowest survival rates often see those diagnosed die within five years. More work is needed to find better ways to detect these cancers earlier or to develop more effective treatments. Among the cancers with the lowest survival rates:

Brain Cancer and Cancer of the Central Nervous System (CNS)

Certain brain and CNS cancers, including diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), have low survival rates. DIPG is an aggressive CNS cancer most often diagnosed in children, and it is inoperable. While the overall rate of survival for CNS cancers has improved over the last 40+ years, the survival rate for patients with DIPG remains very low. Scientists have been able to better understand brain and CNS tumors in general by looking at the DNA of a patient and their tumor. By understanding these cancers better, scientists have developed individualized, targeted therapies to stop them. But DIPG is still especially challenging to treat or study because of its location.

The five-year survival rate for brain and other CNS cancers is about 33%. The two-year survival rate for DIPG is less than 10%.


The V Foundation has funded more than $5.6 million to study DIPG. Learn more about the studies we have funded:

Pancreatic Cancer

The pancreas is a gland in your abdomen. When functioning correctly, it creates digestive juices and hormones to regulate blood sugar. The pancreas is behind other organs, and there are no noticeable early symptoms of pancreatic cancer. This makes pancreatic cancer hard to find and hard to treat. Often, by the time pancreatic cancer is detected, it has already begun to spread.

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. The overall five-year survival rate is 10%. Survival rates are higher – by almost one-third – when the cancer is caught early, before it spreads. If it has spread before it is found, the survival rate drops significantly.

The V Foundation has awarded more than $13 million to study pancreatic cancers. Read more about our work to stop one of the deadliest cancers:

How Cancer Research is Making a Difference

There may not be cures for all cancers today, but cancer research is helping to get closer. New breakthroughs in the field can create positive outcomes for patients living with the disease.

The V Foundation proudly uses 100% of direct donations to fund research to find improved methods of detection and treatment for a variety of cancers, including those with low survival rates.

Become a Monthly Cancer Research Donor and Save Lives

You can save lives by supporting cancer research. Increase survival odds for patients by becoming a monthly donor to the V Foundation. Learn more about your giving options and how your donation can help make a positive impact in the lives of others.