What Is a Survival Rate?
Are you wondering about the average survival rate for a particular type and stage of lung cancer? We have several different types of statistics available, but before looking at these numbers it is important to talk about a few things.Survival rates for lung cancer are different for each person. There are many factors which can either increase or decrease these numbers. Yet, survival rates also need to be understood. It’s important to understand where these numbers come from, and why they can be misleading or even completely inaccurate, before looking at your numbers.
Lung cancer 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 percent for a condition would mean that 40 percent of people, or 40 out of 100 people, would be alive after five years.When talking about lung cancer, physicians often use the term median survival as well. Median survival is the amount of time at which 50 percent of people with a condition will have died, and 50 percent are still alive.
Lung cancer survival rates are statistics and don’t necessarily give an accurate estimate of how long an individual will survive with a certain disease. There are many factors that affect lung cancer survival rates, including general health, sex, race, and treatments used. Additionally, smoking cessation is demonstrated to improve survival in patients with early–stage non-small cell lung cancer and in some patients with small cell lung cancer.
Accuracy of the Rates
Not everyone living with lung cancer is interested in hearing statistics about survival rates. Some people want to know what they can expect (statistically that is) with their particular type of lung cancer, whereas others find numbers about survival rates to be discouraging.It is important for loved ones to be sensitive to this and honor the wishes of their loved one with cancer. That said, even if you aren’t interested in statistics, there are things you can do to raise your odds. These are things other than surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy that have been found to increase survival in well-researched studies, and many of them are quite simple, such as finding strong support.
Putting the Numbers in Perspective
We wish we could take each person who reads this on a journey to see how lung cancer treatments and survival rates are improving. That isn’t false hope. It’s true that for almost 40 years survival rates for lung cancer—at least advanced disease—budged little.Yet in the last year since 2016, the survival rate for stage 4 disease has doubled. It’s not just newer and better drugs, but rather, newer and better categories of drugs that we have to fight the disease. Check out the statistics if you find it helpful, but don’t forget that there is hope.
Factors That Affect Survival Rates
There are a number of different factors which can affect survival rates from lung cancer. Some of these factors include:
- Age – Lung cancer survival is better at younger ages than older ages. That said, it’s important to note that young people with lung cancer are often diagnosed at a higher stage of the disease (as many people, including health care providers, aren’t thinking lung cancer in young people.)
- Sex – Women tend to have a better prognosis with lung cancer at each stage of the disease.
- Race – Survival rates appear to be lower for African Americans than they are for Caucasian or Asian people.
- Other medical conditions – People who have other serious medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease do not usually do as well as those who are healthy.
- How you respond to treatment – Some people are able to tolerate treatments easier than others.
- Complications of lung cancer – There are many possible complications of lung cancer, some of which can decrease the survival rate.
- Smoking – Continued smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer reduces the survival rate and can increase the risk of complications from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapies.
Overall Survival Rates by Type
- Small Cell Lung Cancer – The overall 5-year survival rate for small cell lung cancer (limited and extensive) is only about 6 percent.
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer – The overall 5-year survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer (all stages combined) is roughly 18 percent.
- BAC (Bronchioloalveolar Carcinoma) – 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. In one study, those who were diagnosed with BAC and had tumors less than three centimeters in diameter, had a five-year survival rate of 100 percent with surgery. The five-year survival rate for people with more advanced stages of the disease varies considerably.
Survival Rates by Stage
As mentioned above, survival rates do not reflect differences in individuals. In addition, keep in mind that not everyone with a particular stage of lung cancer has the same prognosis. Staging lung cancer can help guide treatment, but there is a wide spectrum of cancers within each stage.
- Stage 1 Non-Small Cell – The overall 5-year survival rate for stage 1A lung cancer is 49 percent and for 1B is 45 percent.
- Stage 2 Non-Small Cell – The overall survival rate with stage 2A lung cancer is 30 percent and for stage 2B lung cancer, 30 percent.
- Stage 3A Non-Small Cell – The overall survival rate for stage 3A lung cancer is 14 percent, but this varies widely among different cancers that are classified as stage 3A.
- Stage 3B Non-Small Cell – The 5-year survival rate with stage 3B lung cancer is only 5 percent. The median survival time with treatment is 13 months.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer – The overall 5-year survival rate for both stages of small cell lung cancer (limited stage plus extensive stage) is only about 6 percent. Without treatment, the average life expectancy for extensive disease is 2 to 4 months, and with treatment is 6 to 12 months.
A Word From Verywell
It can’t be stressed enough that survival rates are statistics—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, I know several people personally who 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 (or friends and loved ones have helped them) and have advocated for themselves 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 clinical trials are not just advancing research but are helping people stay alive with lung cancer. There is a lot of hope.