Survival for cancer of unknown primary (CUP)

Survival depends on many factors. No one can tell you exactly how long you will live.

These are general statistics based on large groups of people. Remember, they can’t tell you what will happen in your individual case. 

Your doctor can give you more information about your own outlook (prognosis). You can also talk about this with the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

What affects survival

Your outlook depends on several factors. It is best to talk to your own specialist. They should be able to give you a broad idea about your outlook. Even then, it is very difficult for your specialist to be accurate. 

There are some factors that might mean that people with cancer of unknown primary (CUP) have a better outlook. This is in comparison with people with CUP who don’t have these factors. These factors help your doctor decide what treatment is best for you. They include having:

  • cancer cells in the lymph nodes in your neck. This suggests that the primary cancer is a head and neck squamous cell cancer
  • cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the armpit (axilla). This might mean that the primary cancer is in the breast
  • cancer spread in just one area or organ of your body. For example, having one tumour in the liver or lungs

Other factors that affect your outlook include:

  • how well your cancer responds to the treatment
  • how widespread your cancer is
  • your general health and level of fitness

Survival for cancer of unknown primary

There are no UK-wide survival statistics for CUP.

Survival statistics are available for people with CUP in England. These figures are for men and women diagnosed between 2012 and 2016.

Generally for all those with CUP:

  • around 16 out of 100 people (around 16%) survive for 1 year or more
  • around 10 out of 100 people (around 10%) survive for 3 years or more

About these statistics

The terms 1 year survival and 3 year survival don't mean that you will only live for 1 or 3 years. They relate to the number of people who are still alive 1 year or 3 years after their diagnosis of cancer.

Some people live much longer than 3 years.

More detailed statistics

You can read other statistics about cancer of unknown primary in our Cancer Statistics section. 

Related links