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Is it Possible to Survive Cancer without Chemotherapy?

Is it Possible to Survive Cancer without Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is a form of treatment that kills fast-growing cells. Surgery is also often done before or after undergoing chemotherapy to lessen the cancer cells. These are the practiced ways of treating cancer. However, some patients are refusing chemotherapy or surgery due to various reasons. So, what happens if you don’t do chemotherapy or surgery?

Those who opt-out of these treatments cite the following reasons, such as:

  • medical comorbidity
  • having no health insurance
  • low income
  • advanced-stage disease.

Though we have the right to choose, it’s important to be well aware of the risks and possibilities. Aside from these forms of treatment, other alternatives are also available.

Read on to learn more.

What happens if you don’t do chemotherapy or undergo a surgical process?

Studies about different types of cancer were published, discussing the risks of not complying with the treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy.

One of these studies involves observation with breast cancer patients. The usual treatment for this type of cancer is a local surgery that removes the tumor and radiochemotherapy afterward to prevent its recurrence.

However, few women still refuse to undergo treatments, so what happens if you don’t do chemotherapy or undergo a surgical process?

Here’s what researchers found:

  • 70 of 5339 women refused to undergo surgery to remove the tumor.
  • If the result of observation is compared to those who chose to have surgery, the five-year survival rate between the two groups has a little gap.
  • There are 72% and 87% five-year survival rates, respectively.
  • Then, breast cancer patients who refused surgery have an increased risk of death than patients who received treatment.
  • Moreover, patients who have done surgery but rejected chemotherapy have an estimated 59.2% of 10-year survival rate with no other symptoms or recurrence of the disease. If they accept both treatments, the survival rate increases to 74.3%. However, the actual rate from observation has resulted in 13.8%, worse than the estimated rate.

On the other hand, what happens if you don’t do chemotherapy and surgery?

The five-year survival rate will drop to 43% from 86% if both treatments are received. The results are still different if other comorbidities and factors are determined.

Aside from breast cancer, other studies also observed small cell lung cancer patients who refused radiochemotherapy. The number of women patients who refused treatments is more than men.

The overall length of survival of those women who received treatments is 19.8 months, evidently longer than 5.2 months of those who refused. Similar to some studies, various factors are considered for patients to reject any of the suggested treatments.

What about the other cancer types? What happens if you don’t do chemotherapy or surgery?

In Seattle Children Research Institute, cellular immunotherapy is the only option if chemotherapy or radiotherapy are not working well with children.

They tested this treatment with leukemia patients. Its process involves drawing blood, reprogramming infection-fighting cells, and injecting the blood back to the patient. In this treatment, 86.9% of children survived, while 20% have a recurrence of symptoms but still survived.

In a study with colorectal cancer patients that did not receive chemotherapy, there is a 65% survival rate in a year and a 25% for two years. The overall long-term survival rate of the patients is said to be contributed by the malignancy of cancer. Since it is malignant, the growth of the cancer is slow.

what happens if you don't do chemotherapy

Other cancer treatments aside from chemotherapy and surgery

What happens if you don’t do chemotherapy or surgery? Of course, there are other options. However, it depends on the cancer type and stage.

These are the following:

  1. Immunotherapy. It is a new form of treatment, which can treat different cancer types, even in the advanced stage. This treatment does not have side effects like hair loss, nausea, or vomiting. Sometimes, there are side effects but they are tolerable and minimal.
  2. Targeted therapies. Unlike chemotherapy, this treatment is only targeting the genes causing cancer. It is allowed for different cancer patients, regardless of stage. This means keeping the cancer recurrence or keeping the cancer cells from growing. It may come in the form of IV or pill form.
  3. Active surveillance. Some doctors recommend active observation if it is slow-growing tumor cancer or still at an early stage. It is often done with prostate cancer patients. The surveillance includes blood tests and symptoms monitoring. If cancer grows, additional treatment will be suggested, along with the observation.

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, what happens if you don’t do chemotherapy, surgery, or both? For some cancer types, the survival rate will decrease as the years pass. The risk of death is also likely to increase. Moreover, other treatments are still available if you refuse to receive chemotherapy or surgery.

However, it still depends on the cancer type and its current stage when diagnosed. Still, different factors are considered when deciding what treatment would be perfect for the patient.

Some cancer types may heal completely without chemotherapy or surgery. It still depends on the general health of the patient.

Learn more about cancer symptoms, treatment, and management, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Treatment Refusal for Small Cell Lung Cancer Date Accessed July 14, 2021

Rejecting cancer treatment: What are the consequences? Date Accessed July 14, 2021

Refusal of Recommended Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer: Risk Factors and Outcomes; a National Cancer Data Base Study$002fjnccn$002f14$002f5$002farticle-p539.xml?t:ac=journals%24002fjnccn%24002f14%24002f5%24002farticle-p539.xml Date Accessed July 14, 2021

Survival and chemotherapy success rates for various cancers Date Accessed July 14, 2021

Survival of untreated advanced colorectal cancer patients Date Accessed July 14, 2021

One Step Closer to a Cure for Leukemia without Chemotherapy or Radiation Date Accessed July 14, 2021

5 Cancer Treatments That Aren’t Chemotherapy Date Accessed July 14, 2021

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Written by Shienna Santelices Updated Jul 22, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel