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NED is an acronym that stands for “no evidence of disease.” Doctors use the term NED when all signs and symptoms of your cancer are gone. NED is also referred to as complete remission.

Achieving NED is a promising sign. It means that cancer cells are no longer detectable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your cancer is cured. Cancer cells may still be present in low amounts.

Doctors often consider your cancer cured if it stays in complete remission for at least 5 years.

Keep reading as we take a deeper look at what’s considered NED. We also break down some of the terms that may be used to describe the state of your cancer.

The terms complete remission and NED are used interchangeably to indicate that cancer cells are no longer detectable in your body.

Depending on the type of cancer you have, your doctor may use blood tests, biopsies, or imaging tests to look for evidence of cancer. To achieve NED, these tests need to reveal no sign of cancer for at least 1 month.

Achieving NED is a positive sign that your cancer treatment was effective and that you’re at a lower risk for developing metastatic cancer or cancer-related death. Metastatic cancer is when cancer cells travel through your blood and lymph system to other parts of your body. It usually has a poor prognosis and is difficult to treat.

A 2016 study examined the outcomes of patients with metastatic breast cancer who achieved NED after treatment compared to patients who didn’t achieve NED. The researchers found that the 3- and 5-year overall survival rates of people who achieved NED were 96 and 78 percent respectively compared to 44 and 24 percent for all patients. Only 16 percent of patients in the study attained NED.

Achieving NED doesn’t necessarily mean your cancer is completely gone from your body. It’s still possible for cancer cells to exist in small amounts that aren’t detectable and for the cancer to return.

The odds of your cancer returning depends on the specific type of cancer you’re dealing with. For example, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, about 50 percent of people with acute lymphocytic leukemia who achieve NED will have a relapse.

According to the National Cancer Institute, your cancer is cured when doctors can’t find any traces of your cancer and the cancer will never come back.

Achieving NED isn’t the same as being cured, but it may mean you’re on your way. Doctors often refer to cancer as cured if you remain in NED for at least 5 years.

It’s still possible that your cancer can return even after 5 years, but it’s less likely.

According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, most cases of relapse, secondary cancer development, and serious side effects seen at their hospital occur within 3 years of diagnosis.

A 2016 case study described a rare reoccurrence of breast cancer after 24 years. The 68-year-old woman in the study was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991. At that time, she had her right breast surgically removed and underwent chemotherapy.

The treatment was deemed successful and she went into complete remission until cancer was rediscovered in 2015.

NED is one of many terms your doctor may use to refer to the state of your cancer. Here’s a look at some other commonly used terms.

Complete remission

The terms complete remission and complete response are used interchangeably with NED.

Near-complete remission

Near-complete remission indicates that you have no signs of cancer, but tests can still detect some abnormalities such as scar tissue.

Partial remission

A partial remission, also known as a partial response, is when your cancer responds to treatment but doesn’t go away completely. It’s usually defined as a tumor reduced by at least 50 percent. Like with complete remission, your cancer needs to be reduced for at least a month for doctors to consider it in remission.

Spontaneous remission

Spontaneous remission is when cancer or another progressive disease unexpectedly gets better when it’s expected to get worse. It’s a very rare phenomenon, and the cause often isn’t clear.

Researchers are continuing to examine why some cancers spontaneously resolve. At this time, research is mostly isolated to a handful of case reports.

A 2019 case study examined a 74-year-old woman with lung cancer. After months of chemotherapy, her tumor had spread to her heart and surrounding arteries. The woman decided to stop chemotherapy due to the side effects and her poor health. A year after ceasing treatment, the tumor had shrunk and a diagnosis of spontaneous remission was made. At a follow-up appointment nine months later, there was no progression of her cancer.

The woman was also taking the herbal supplement Orostachys japonicus, which the research note may have contributed to her remission.

Achieving NED means your doctor can’t find any signs of cancer using tests such as imaging, blood tests, or a biopsy. Obtaining NED is a promising sign that your cancer treatment was effective, but it’s still possible for your cancer to return.

Most cases of reoccurrence occur within five years. Uncommonly, cancer may reoccur after a decade or longer. One case study even describes a woman redeveloping breast cancer 24 years after her original diagnosis.

Even if you achieve NED, it’s important to work together with your doctor or medical team to minimize the chances of your cancer coming back.