Stage 4 cancer is the severest form of cancer. It has the highest risk of mortality. However, stage 4 cancer is not always terminal.

In this article, we discuss what stage 4 cancer is, the survival rate for different types of cancer, and what support is available for people with cancer.

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Cancer is a group of diseases that cause rapid cell growth. Cancerous cells grow and reproduce uncontrollably in certain parts of the body. As a cancerous tumor grows, the cells can spread to other areas of the body.

Doctors typically use a staging system to determine how severe the cancer is. Splitting cancers into stages is one factor that helps doctors determine the best treatment approaches.

A range of tests is useful in determining the stage of cancer. They include:

Doctors take different factors into account to determine what stage a cancer is at. Common factors include:

  • how large the primary tumor is and its location in the body
  • whether the tumor has spread to the lymph nodes
  • how far cancer has spread to other parts of the body, a process called metastasis

Doctors may also consider other factors, such as the cell type, results of biopsies, or the person’s age. Together, this information determines whether cancer is less advanced (stage 1) or very advanced (stage 4), or in between.

Stage 4 cancer is the most severe form of cancer. Metastatic cancer is another name for stage 4 cancer because the disease has usually spread far in the body, or metastasized.

More severe cancers are more likely to be terminal. However, that is never a certainty. For example, the American Cancer Society say the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that spreads to distant body parts is 27%, or 86% when it only spreads locally.

Determining the severity of cancer and its stage is a complex process. Doctors are still learning about all the factors that affect how cancer develops and affects the body.

Doctors usually give a prognosis for cancer in terms of an estimated survival rate over 5 years. These survival rates are a rough guide based on data from thousands of other people with a similar cancer and stage.

Survival rates vary depending on the location or type of cancer. Despite how far cancer spreads, doctors will still refer to the type of cancer by where it started.

The stage 4 survival rates for some of the most common forms of cancers include the following:


Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with over 1.7 million new cases of female breast cancer in 2017.

The American Cancer Society say the estimated 5-year survival rate for breast cancer that spreads to distant body parts is 27%.


There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Most cases are non-small cell lung cancer, in which the cancerous cells are larger.

According to the American Cancer Society, the average 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is 6%. For small cell lung cancer, there is a 3% 5-year survival rate under the same scenario.


Colorectal cancer affects the colon or rectal areas and is generally treatable in its early stages. There were around 104,610 new cases of colorectal cancer in the U.S. in 2020.

The American Cancer Society say the 5-year survival rate for colorectal cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body is 14%.


Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men in the U.S. It affects the prostate, a small gland in the pelvis. If cancer spreads to distant body parts, the American Cancer Society give the 5-year survival rate as 31%.

The treatment for stage 4 cancer will vary depending on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. Some treatments aim to improve the person’s quality of life and control symptoms. Others aim to stop cancer growth.

Treatments at this stage might include:

  • chemotherapy, although it can become too risky when cancer spreads far
  • radiation therapy, which can shrink tumors and help with symptoms
  • immunotherapy, which helps the body’s immune system fight the cancer
  • surgery to remove the cancer
  • targeted therapy, which aims to slow tumor growth

Cancer can take an enormous emotional toll on a person and their friends and family. There are many different options for people to receive support when dealing with cancer.

The American Cancer Society provide many resources for those seeking support, including:

  • information centers
  • options for places to stay during treatment
  • programs to transport people to treatment locations
  • hair loss and mastectomy products
  • support groups

They also provide online networks, apps, and communities to support people with cancer and those around them.

Stage 4 cancer is the severest form of cancer. Doctors use several factors to classify cancer stage, including the size and locations of tumors.

When cancer spreads far from its original location, the chances of survival decrease. However, stage 4 cancer is not always terminal.

Different types of cancer have different rates of survival in stage 4. Many other factors also affect survival, such as age and lifestyle. While survival statistics are a helpful guide, every case will be different.