Forecasting the Course of Disease: Lung Cancer Prognosis

Overall, fewer than 10% of people with primary lung cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis. But 5-year survival rates may be as high as 35–40% among patients who undergo surgical resection for cancer that has not spread beyond the lung. General estimates of stage-specific median survival times—the point at which 50% of patients are still living—are as follows:

Stage 1a —more than 60 months (> 5 years)
Stage 1b —about 36 months (3 years)
Stage 2a —about 24 months (2 years)
Stage 2b —about 20 months (< 2 years)
Stage 3a —about 15 months (< 1.5 years)
Stage 3b —about 12 months (1 year)
Stage 4 —about 8 months (< 1 year)

Some studies indicate that 5-year survival rates approach 85% among patients who are younger than 30 years of age and have surgically removable lung cancers (Mizushima et al., Cancer 85:1730-33, April 1999). Researchers believe that genetic mutations may be responsible for differences in survival rates between older and younger people with lung cancer.

Nearly half of limited-stage SCLC patients who have been treated aggressively are alive after 2 to 3 years. By contrast, untreated patients with localized disease show median survivals of approximately 3 to 4 months. Extensive-stage SCLC patients who undergo comfort care have expected median survivals of 4 to 6 weeks. (Note: these findings are based on a group of patients and may not be true for any one patient).

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 15 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 20 May 2011