Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, but its survival rates vary dramatically depending on the cancer stage and other factors. Although no one can be sure of exactly what will happen with this or any other form of cancer, certain risk factors can help you to get an idea of what the future may look like.
Lung Cancer Stage and Statistics
An important thing to remember when talking about survival rates is that most lung cancer is not diagnosed until the later stages. The early symptoms, like coughing, chest pain, and fatigue, are frequently mistaken for a lingering cold, and people aren't regularly screened for it in the way they are for breast or colon cancer, which leads to the cancer not being diagnosed until Stage III or IV. Therefore, while the overall survival rates for lung cancer are lower than those for other cancers, this is partly because many people are not able to get early treatment and because they may already have unknowingly been living with cancer for years. If you have early stage cancer, your survival rates are better than the numbers suggest; even if you have late stage cancer, it isn't hopeless.
Survival Rates by Stage
The stage of the cancer has a dramatic effect on the survival rate. For non-small cell cancer of the lung (NSCLC), which is the most common form, the five-year survival rate is 49% in Stage I, 30% in Stage II, and 14% in Stage III. Stage IV NSCLC is difficult to treat and only has a five-year survival rate of about 1%, but there are still many possibilities for treating it. For small cell cancer (SCLC), the rates are a bit lower for the early stages but higher for Stage IV. The five-year survival rate for SCLC is 31% in Stage I, 19% in Stage II, 8% in Stage III, and 2% in Stage IV.
Survival Rates by Gender and Ethnicity
Women tend to have far higher survival rates for cancer of the lungs than men, regardless of the cancer stage. Among men, black men tend to have the lowest survival rates, and Hispanic men tend to have the highest. White women have the lowest survival rates among women, with Hispanic women again having the highest.
Smoking and Survival Rates
If you smoke, quitting now can dramatically improve your chances. A 2010 study in the British Medical Journal showed that people who stopped smoking after a diagnosis of cancer of the lungs were able to double their odds of surviving for five years. Smoking also makes treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy less effective.
Effectiveness of Treatment
Survival rates group together all people diagnosed with cancer of the lungs, regardless of the treatment plan they pursue. Unfortunately, there are no exact statistics for the effectiveness of, say, chemotherapy versus radiation therapy. According to the American Cancer Society, however, if you are healthy enough for surgery in the early stages, your odds are greatly improved.