If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may have questions about how serious your cancer is and your chances of survival. While oncologists can’t predict the future, they can provide an estimate, called a prognosis, which gives an idea of how the disease will progress or respond to treatment for you.
Many factors can influence prognosis in lung cancer, including the cancer’s stage and certain traits of the cancer cells. Age, race, gender, and overall health of the patient pre-diagnosis are influential factors as well.
Doctors estimate prognosis by using statistics that researchers have collected over many years about people with the same cancer type. In cancer, these statistics are more commonly referred to as survival rates.
In addition to determining a prognosis, survival rates are often used to see how patients with the same type of cancer responded to specific treatments. This information can help your doctor create a treatment plan that will provide the most benefit for your particular situation.
Considering that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, a lung cancer patients' prognosis is often poor. With that said, if lung cancer is diagnosed in its earliest stages, a cure is possible through treatment such as immunotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Unfortunately, cases of lung cancer are most often detected relatively late in the illness, which makes cure less likely. However, appropriate and timely treatment can improve survival and prognosis considerably.
Understanding Survival Rates
Cancer survival rates are generally expressed in percentage terms, which can often be hard to understand. If you find the statistical jargon challenging to follow, ask your doctor to provide a more direct explanation of your situation. He or she can put the statistics in context and help you understand your specific condition.
Typically, cancer statistics use an overall 5-year survival rate. This means the 5-year survival rate would be the percentage of patients that live for five years after diagnosis.
Survival Rates for Lung Cancer
The stage of your lung cancer at diagnosis, which refers to the extent of cancer in the body, determines treatment options and strongly influences the length of survival.
The SEER database, maintained by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), tracks 5-year relative survival rates for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) in the United States, based on how far cancer has spread throughout the body. The SEER database groups cancers into localized, regional, and distant stages to show survival rates:
- Localized: The cancer is confined to the lung
- Regional: Lung cancer has spread outside the lung to lymph nodes or nearby structures
- Distant: Lung cancer has spread to distant parts of the body