Stage 2 Lung Cancer Life Expectancy

6 Factors That Can Influence Survival Times

Based on cancer type and other factors—such as the size of the tumor and how far it has spread—stage 2 non-small cell lung cancer has a five-year survival rate of between 53% and 60%. Life expectancy is influenced by several factors, not the least of which is the progression of the disease from stage 1.

This intermediate stage of cancer, in which the malignancy has begun to extend from the primary tumor to surrounding tissues, is still highly treatable. And just as there are factors that can negatively impact survival, there are others that can have a positive effect.

Knowing which risk factors are modifiable can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your chances of remission or disease-free survival.

Characteristics of Stage 2 Lung Cancers

Lung cancer staging is a process used to classify the severity of the disease. The staging of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) utilizes the TNM system, which determines the cancer stage based on the tumor's size and extent (T), whether nearby lymph nodes have cancer cells in them (N), and if there is evidence of the spread of cancer, also known as metastasis (M).

The cancer stage helps directs the appropriate course of treatment as well as predict the likely outcome (prognosis).

Stage 2 NSCLC is broken down into two substages:

  • Stage 2a lung cancer indicates a tumor size of between 4 and 5 centimeters (roughly 1½ inch and 2 inches, respectively). The tumor may also have grown into an airway or tissues surrounding the lungs. However, no lymph nodes will be affected, and there will be no evidence of metastasis.
  • Stage 2b lung cancer indicates that the tumor is either less than 3 centimeters (1¼ inch) in diameter and has spread to nearby lymph nodes, or that the tumor is between 3 and 5 centimeters or may have spread into the airways or surrounding tissues as well as nearby lymph nodes. There will also be no evidence of metastasis.

NSCLC is staged differently than small cell lung cancer (SCLC), a less common form of the disease that is classified as either limited-stage or extensive-stage.

Stage 2 Survival Statistics

Cancer survival is typically described in terms of five-year survival rates. This is the percentage of people who live for at least five years following their diagnosis.

Epidemiologists and health authorities calculate survival in different ways. Some do so based on the TNM stage, while others calculate life expectancy based on how extensively cancer has spread. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

While survival rates are helpful in many ways, it is important to remember that they are only broad estimates of what to expect.

Survival Rates by TNM Stage

Estimating survival based on the TNM stage is an intuitive approach that "matches" stage to survival. Based on recent revisions to the TNM classification system, the five-year survival rate of stage 2 NSCLC breaks down as follows.

5-Year Survival Rates by TNM Stage
Lung Cancer Stage 5-Year Survival Rate
2a 60%
2b 53%

Survival rates like these are not carved in stone. Some people can live well in excess of the five-year estimates, while others may fall short of them.

The drawback of the TNM approach is that certain basic factors—such as the location of the tumor and the degree of airway obstruction—can impact survival times and are not reflected in these estimates.

Survival Rates by Disease Extent

The National Cancer Institute utilizes a different approach to survival estimates under its Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.

Rather than basing five-year estimates on the disease stage, the SEER program does so based on how extensively the cancer has spread. This is categorized in one of the following three ways.

  • Localized: No sign of cancer outside of the lung
  • Regional: Cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes or structures
  • Distant: Cancer that has spread to distant organs (metastatic disease)

One of the advantages of the SEER system is that it can be applied to both NSCLC and SCLC. On the downside, there is a significant overlap in definitions. For example, stage 1 and stage 2a NSCLC are considered localized, since there is no lymph node involvement. On the other hand, stage 2b NSCLC is considered regional, since lymph nodes are involved. As such, it falls into the same category as stage 3a NSCLC.

Under the SEER classification system, the five-year survival rate for stage 2a lung cancer is 59%, while the five-year survival rate for stage 2b lung cancer is 31.7%.

SEER 5-Year Survival Classification
Stage at Diagnosis 5-Year Survival Rate
Localized (e.g., stage 2a) 59%
Regional (e.g., stage 2b) 31.7%
Distant 5.8%
Unstaged 8.3%

Factors Influencing Survival Rates

The course of stage 2 lung cancer can vary from person to person; there is no one set path. Multiple variables can influence five-year survival rates, some of which are modifiable and others of which are not.

There are six distinct factors that are known to impact survival times in people with NSCLC in general and, in some cases, stage 2 NSCLC specifically.

Variables that affect lung cancer survival
 Verywell / Emily Roberts

Age

Survival times in people with NSCLC in general tend to decrease in tandem with advancing age. This is in part because of diminishing overall health.

After the age of 60—the period in which most people with lung cancer are diagnosed—the five-year survival rate begins to drop precipitously.

5-Year Survival Rate by Age Group
Stage at Diagnosis Under 50 Ages 50-64 65 and Over
Localized 83.7% 67.4% 54.6%
Regional 47.7% 36.6% 28.3%
Distant 11% 7% 4.7%
Unstaged 32.1% 15.4% 6%

Sex

Sex also affects survival times in people with lung cancer in general, with women statistically living longer than men. Even though lung cancer tends to occur at a younger age in women, men are far more likely to develop and die of the disease than women.

Over time, the disparity becomes even more apparent. With NSCLC in general, the five-year survival rate in women is 20% greater than that in men (19% vs. 13.8%, respectively), while the 10-year survival rate in women is nearly 40% greater than in men (16.2% vs. 19.5%, respectively).

With stage 2 NSCLC specifically, women have a five-year survival rate of 60% compared to 50% in men—a roughly 17% difference.

Performance Status

It is no surprise that your general health at the time of an NSCLC diagnosis impacts how well you respond to treatment and how long you are likely to survive. People who are fit and active in their 70s, for example, are almost invariably more likely to do better than those in their 60s who are disabled due to their symptoms.

The ability to function in daily life with cancer is referred to as performance status (PS). It can be measured using one of two classification systems:

  • Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) Performance Status is a cancer-specific system that rates PS on a scale of 0 to 5 (0 being fully functional and 5 being dead).
  • Karnofsky Score is a generalized measure used in oncology and other diseases that rates PS on a scale of 0% to 100% (0% being dead and 100% being fully functional).

Based on the ECOG system, the five-year survival rate for overall NSCLC is delineated by the PS but is also described by median survival times (the period of time in which 50% of people with NSCLC are still alive).

All-Stage NSCLC Survival by Performance Status
Performance Status 5-Year Survival Rates Median Overall Survival
0 45.9% 51.5 months
1 18.7% 15.4 months
2 5.8% 6.7 months
3 0% 3.9 months
4 0% 2.4 months
5 Not applicable Not applicable

Smoking Status

Cigarette smoking not only increases your risk of getting cancer, but decreases your survival time if you continue to smoke after being diagnosed or treated.

A 2010 review of studies in the British Medical Journal concluded that smoking after the diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer (defined as stages 1 and 2a) reduces the five-year survival rate to 33%. This translates to a greater than 50% reduction in overall survival times for people with stage 2 NSCLC.

By contrast, quitting cigarettes increases five-year survival rates to around 70% independent of all other risk factors.

Type of Lung Cancer

Not all lung cancers are the same. With NSCLC in general, some types are more aggressive than others or may inhabit different, more vulnerable parts of the lungs. The following are the three most common types.

  • Lung adenocarcinoma: A type of NSCLC that develops in the outer edges of the lung and accounts for around 40% of all lung cancer diagnoses.
  • Squamous cell lung carcinoma: A type that mainly affects the airways and accounts for 25% and 30% of all cases.
  • Large cell lung carcinoma: A rare and typically aggressive form of NSCLC that can develop in any part of the lung.

Each of these cancer types has different estimated survival rates, with lung adenocarcinoma generally being the most promising and large cell carcinoma being the least.

5-Year Survival Rates by NSCLC Type
NSCLC Type 5-Year Survival Rate (Overall)
Lung adenocarcinoma 20.6%
Squamous cell lung carcinoma 17.6%
Large cell lung carcinoma 13.2%

Type of Surgery

Lung cancer surgery is a mainstay of treatment for stage 2 NSCLC. There are four types of surgery commonly used based on the size, location, and extent of the malignancy.

  • Wedge resection: Involves the removal of a wedge-shaped section of the lung; usually pursued if the tumor is small or there is a concern about lung function
  • Lobectomy: The preferred surgical method of surgery, involving the removal of one of the five lobes of the lungs
  • Sleeve resection: Involves the removal of a part of the lung as well as a part of the main airway
  • PneumonectomyInvolves the removal of an entire lung if the tumor’s location prevents less invasive surgeries

As a general rule, survival rates tend to decrease in tandem with the amount of lung tissue removed. This is especially true when comparing lobectomy to pneumonectomy. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Thoracic Diseases, the five-year survival rate of people who undergo lobectomy is double that of those who undergo pneumonectomy (31.5% vs. 15.6%, respectively)

How a person is treated after surgery also influences survival times. With respect to stage 2 NSCLC specifically, the use of adjuvant chemotherapy (used to clear any remaining cancer cells) results in a 53% lower risk of death over the ensuing five years compared to people who do not undergo chemotherapy following surgical resection.

A Word From Verywell

The survival time for people with lung cancer is rapidly improving compared to earlier generations. Back in the 1970s, the one-year survival rate for cancer was only 16%, increasing to 32% by 2011. Today, the rate is as high as 44%, with one in 10 women and one in 12 men living for 10 years or more.

Early diagnosis is key to improving outcomes. With stage 2a and 2b NSCLC, curative treatment is possible, affording survival times comparable to those of stage 1 NSCLC. And by quitting cigarettes, exercising regularly, and pursuing a generally healthier lifestyle, you may not only be better equipped to cope with treatment, but extend your life expectancy as well.

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