Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Life Expectancy

When someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, their condition falls into one of two typessmall cell lung cancer (SCLC), or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC can be further divided into subtypes, some of which are pretty rare. The most common types of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and large cell lung carcinoma (LCLC).

The exact type of NSCLC is important to know, as that helps your cancer care team to develop a treatment plan. This article will review the survival rates of NSCLC. 

lung cancer concept. doctor explaining results of lung check up from x-ray scan chest on digital tablet screen to patient

Prapass Pulsub / Getty Images

Survival Rates

One of the first things people newly diagnosed with lung cancer may want to know is their outlook. The survival rate of NSCLC is often reported in five-year survival terms, meaning the percentage of people still alive five years after their diagnosis.

The most important factor in determining survival rate is the stage of the cancer. The stage of a cancer gives a number to how advanced the cancer is, between stage 1 and stage 4. To determine the stage of the cancer, the oncologist needs to know the size of the tumor, and if it has spread to any lymph nodes or distant areas of the body.

Stage 1 means the cancer is localized to only the one area in the lung, with stage 4 meaning cancer has spread to distant areas, such as the brain, bones, or liver.

Five-year Survival Rates of NSCLC
Localized (not spread)   63%
Regional (cancer in nearby lymph nodes)  35%
Distant (cancer spread to other organs)   7%

The five-year survival rate of NSCLC overall, with all stages combined, is 25%.

How Accurate Are Survival Rates?

The available statistics for the type of cancer and stage of cancer are used when determining survival rates. They're as accurate as the current data allow.

Because of advancing treatments such as immunotherapy and screening for early detection of lung cancer, people with NSCLC are living longer.

Interpreting Survival Rates

When looking at five-year survival rates, the percentage given is the percentage of people still alive five years after their diagnosis.


Sometimes you will experience no symptoms with lung cancer, especially if it's in an early stage, or even located in the outer areas of the lungs. Depending upon the size of the tumor and its location, symptoms of lung cancer can include:


The majority of all lung cancers fall under the category of NSCLC, about 85%. The subtypes of NSCLC are listed below in the order of most to least common:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • SCC
  • LCLC
  • Large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC)
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma


The treatment for NSCLC is determined based upon the stage of your cancer, but may include one or any combination of the following:

  • Surgery: A small part of the lung or an entire lung can be removed during a surgical procedure. 
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy X-ray beams are directed at the cancerous tissue to destroy it or slow its growth. This can be used in attempts to cure cancer or when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body and is causing significant symptoms, such as pain. 
  • Chemotherapy: During chemotherapy, medication is given which prevents cells from dividing, or kills them. 
  • Targeted therapy: This type of therapy can be used when cancer cells have certain genetic changes in them. These medications can work directly against those genetic changes to effectively treat the cancer, usually causing fewer side effects. 
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment allows the immune system to be able to see the cancer cells and attack them.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Risk factors for developing lung cancer can include:


NSCLC is a cancer that starts in the lungs. If caught at an earlier stage, it's more likely to lead to longer survival. When NSCLC is found at a later, more advanced stage, survival rates decrease. 

NSCLC can be treated in a variety of ways and combinations depending upon the stage. These treatments can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. 

A Word From Verywell 

Receiving a diagnosis of NSCLC can be very overwhelming. Looking up survival rates may be one of the first things you do to try to determine your outlook. However, it's important to remember that these rates are averages of groups of people over the years and don't shape your specific story.

Staying as healthy as possible, such as by quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting exercise, can potentially benefit you in many ways. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare team.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How quickly does non-small cell lung cancer spread?

    There isn't one specific answer to this question. Some lung cancers may spread more rapidly than others, while some may be more slow growing.

    It's difficult to know how long a cancer has been present, but generally, once it's large enough to be seen on imaging, it's quicker to spread.

  • Is non-small cell lung cancer curable?

    Treatment for NSCLC can provide a cure when the cancer is at an early stage. 

  • What's the main cause of non-small cell lung cancer?

    The main cause of NSCLC continues to be smoking cigarettes, and it’s estimated that cigarette smoking is the cause of 80% of deaths due to lung cancer. 

    History of asbestos exposure, smoking cigars or pipes, exposure to radon, and exposure to secondhand smoke are all causes as well.

8 Sources
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.
  1. National Cancer Institute. General information about non-small cell lung cancer.

  2. American Cancer Society. Non-small cell lung cancer stages.

  3. American Cancer Society. Lung cancer survival rates.

  4. American Cancer Society. Cancer facts and figures 2021.

  5. American Cancer Society. Lung cancer signs & symptoms.

  6. American Cancer Society. What is lung cancer?.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What are risk factors for lung cancer?

  8. Yuan P, Cao JL, Rustam A, et al. Time-to-progression of nsclc from early to advanced stages: an analysis of data from seer registry and a single institute.Sci Rep. 2016;6(1):28477. doi: 10.1038/srep28477

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.