Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Type and Stage

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Being diagnosed with lung cancer can cause fear and stress. There are many factors that can impact lung cancer survival. Knowing what the statistics are based on, how they should be interpreted, and how they relate to you personally can help give you a clearer sense of the path ahead.

While lung cancer is a serious disease, in recent years, people have been living longer and enjoying full lives after their diagnosis.

Survival rates are a measure of how many people remain alive with a disease after a certain amount of time. For example, a five-year survival rate of 40% for a disease would mean that 40% of people, or 40 out of 100 people, are alive five years after being diagnosed.

Median survival is the amount of time at which 50% of people with a condition 50% are still alive and 50% have died.

Doctor with medical x-ray by patient in hospital
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Overall Survival Rates by Type

There are two basic types of lung cancer: small cell (SCLC), the most aggressive type of lung cancer, and non-small cell (NSCLC), the most common type (which includes several subtypes).

  • Small cell lung cancer: The overall 5-year survival rate for small cell lung cancer (limited and extensive) is about 6.7%.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer: The overall 5-year survival rate for NSCLC (all stages combined) is approximately 26.3%.
  • Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC): A type of NSCLC, BAC is actually an older term and is now considered a subtype of lung adenocarcinoma. The survival rate with BAC is significantly better than with other forms of NSCLC, especially when it is caught early and only one tumor is present. According to research, there is a five-year overall survival rate of 98% after surgery for those with minimally invasive adenocarcinoma (tumors less than three centimeters wide). The five-year survival rate for people with more advanced stages of the disease varies considerably.

Survival Rates by Stage

Rather than list survival rates by type, organizations like the American Cancer Society use the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) database, which is maintained by the National Cancer Institute.

This data tracks five-year relative survival rates for lung cancer based on how far the cancer has spread.

Lung Cancer 5-Year Survival Rate (1975 through 2016)
  Small Cell Lung Cancer Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
All Stages 6.5% 24.9%
Localized 27.2%


Regionalized 16.4% 35.4%
Distant 2.9% 6.9%
Unstaged/Unknown 8.1% 14.8%

Factors That Affect Lung Cancer Survival

While this data is useful to a degree, survival rates are statistics and don't necessarily give an accurate estimate of how long a particular individual will survive with the disease.

There are many factors that affect lung cancer survival rates, which must be kept in mind. Some of these include:

  • Age: The younger you are when you're diagnosed with lung cancer, the better your chances of enjoying a longer life. Unfortunately, younger people are more likely to be diagnosed with a late stage of the disease since they may not be seen as at risk for lung cancer.
  • Sex: Women tend to have a better prognosis (outcome) at each stage of the disease.
  • Race: Survival rates are lower for African Americans than they are for white or Asian people.
  • Other medical conditions: People who have other serious medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or other lung diseases, have a lower survival rate than those without pre-existing health concerns.
  • Complications of lung cancer: There are many possible complications of lung cancer, some of which can decrease the survival rate.
  • Response to treatment: Chemotherapy and other treatments often have side effects that are temporary, but in some cases, medication or radiation can cause dangerous health problems. Lung damage, heart damage, hypertension, and coronary artery disease may result from cancer treatment and could lead to deterioration of overall health, which would impact survival rates.
  • Smoking: Continued smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer can reduce the survival rate. Quitting smoking has been shown to increase the chance of surviving early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (smoking is a major cause) and, possibly, small cell lung cancer as well. In a study that followed lung cancer patients, those who quit smoking within three months of their diagnosis had a survival rate of almost 62%; for those who keep smoking, the survival rate was just 41% a year after diagnosis.
  • Treatment center: Researchers have found that survival rates for people with stage 4 lung cancer were higher for those treated at an academic cancer center than at a community cancer center, particularly for those who have lung adenocarcinoma.

Important Perspective

Ideally, each person diagnosed with lung cancer would have a clear view of how lung cancer treatments and survival rates are improving. Those numbers are very hopeful.

The survival rate for lung cancer has increased steadily over the past 40 years—from 12.4% in the mid-1970s to 20.5% by 2016. This includes steady improvements in advanced, stage 4 lung cancer.

Newer and better drugs have helped improve the odds. Additionally, newer and better categories of drugs are now available to fight the disease. For example, recently, it has been shown that two checkpoint inhibitors (pembrolizumab and nivolumab) may increase the 5-year survival of some patients with metastatic NSCLC.

With treatment advancements in mind, you should read long-term statistics with an understanding that being diagnosed with lung cancer today means you have a better chance of survival than those diagnosed in previous decades (which are factored into the overall survival rates).

A Word From Verywell

It can't be stressed enough that survival rates are numbers—not people—and statistics only predict how someone may have done with lung cancer in the past. With newer treatments, these numbers are changing. Despite the frightening prognosis for stage four disease, there are long-term survivors of advanced lung cancer.

Make sure you learn all you can about your cancer and advocate for the best cancer care possible. Consider whether you want to enroll in a clinical trial. Some of these trials are helping people stay alive with lung cancer. There is a lot of hope.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."