Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Type and Stage

In This Article

Being diagnosed with lung cancer can cause fear and stress because the prognosis for a recovery is lower than that of other common types of cancer. But there are many factors that can impact lung cancer survival rates. Knowing what 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, increasingly people are living longer after their diagnosis and enjoying full lives.

Survival rates are a measure of how many people remain alive with lung cancer 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 will have died and 50% are still alive.

Overall Survival Rates by Type

There are two basic types of lung cancer: small cell, the most aggressive type of lung cancer, and non-small cell, 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 only about 6.7%.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer: The overall 5-year survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer (all stages combined) is approximately 26.3%.
  • Bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (BAC): A type of non-small cell lung cancer, 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 non-small cell lung cancer, 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 stage, 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%

63.1%

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, or chance of recovering from lung cancer, at each stage of the disease.
  • Race: Survival rates appear to be 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, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the chance of surviving early-stage non-small cell lung cancer 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.

It's not just newer and better drugs that have helped improve the odds, but, rather, newer and better categories of drugs that are now available to fight the disease.

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.

Some of these long-term survivors, however, are only alive because they have researched and learned all they could about their cancer and have advocated for the best cancer care possible. There is not an oncologist alive who is aware of every facet of every cancer or every clinical trial available. Some of these trials are not just advancing research but are helping people stay alive with lung cancer. There is a lot of hope.

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