Chemotherapy: Response and Survival Data

  • Narendranath Epperla MD
  • David E Weissman MD

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Background Key data in the decision process regarding chemotherapy include the response rate, median duration of response, and median survival, along with toxicity and quality of life information (see Fast Fact #14).  The table below synthesizes data for several common cancers.  The data were derived by reviewing standard oncology textbooks, along with a Medline search of recent relevant articles. 

Comments on the Response and Survival Data

  • All data is for patients receiving first-line, commercially available, oral or IV chemotherapy and/or biological therapy (e.g. monoclonal antibodies). 
  • ‘Response Rate’ is defined as the percentage of complete and partial responders in a given trial, where ‘Partial Response’ = > 50% reduction in measurable tumor for one month.
  • Response is typically determined after 2 cycles of treatment (usually one cycle every 21-28 days).  Note: patients who progress after 1 cycle will generally continue progressing after two.
  • The data reflect mid-point ranges derived from the available clinical trials; most of the data represent combination chemotherapy trials.  Note: for certain cancers, the benefit of combination vs. single agent therapy is not proven (e.g. pancreas, biliary, liver).
  • This information is not representative of all cancer patients.  The data represent the ‘best case’ outcome, from a population of patients who were in good enough health to participate in a clinical trial (e.g. ambulatory, good functional status). Actual responses and response durations for a non-clinical trial population will likely be poorer.
  • Second-line chemotherapy, following disease progression from first-line treatment, can be expected to have a lower response rate and shorter duration of response.
  • Median survival data includes both responders and non-responders.  Note: patients who respond to chemotherapy typically live longer than those who do not. 


  1. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th Edition. Philadelphia, PA:  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.
  2. Waun Ki Hong, et al, eds.  Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 8th Edition. Hamilton, Ontario:  BC Decker; 2010.

Version History:  This Fast Fact was originally edited by David E Weissman MD. 2nd Edition was edited by Drew A Rosielle and published November 2007.  3rd edition edited with data updates in August 2015.