What Is the Life Expectancy of Lung Cancer?
The life expectancy of lung cancer is how long a patient is expected to live after a diagnosis. Lung cancer life expectancy depends on various factors, including the patient’s health, the type of lung cancer they have, and cancer stage.
Generally speaking, lung cancer has a lower life expectancy than many other cancers.
Despite this poor outlook, treatments can help many patients outlive the average lung cancer life expectancy and become long-term survivors.
Lung Cancer Life Expectancy vs. Survival Rate
Many people confuse the terms “life expectancy” and “survival rate”. While both are important parts of a lung cancer prognosis, they aren’t the same.
- Life expectancy is the amount of time doctors think you’ll live after a diagnosis.
- Survival rate is the percentage of people with the same stage and type of cancer who are still alive after a certain period of time (usually measured in years).
The average 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 18.6%, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). Treatment can help improve your lung cancer survival rate and life expectancy.
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Lung Cancer Life Expectancy by Type
There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Lung cancer life expectancy data varies greatly between the two types. Find the life expectancies for each type below.
Life Expectancy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer and, in its early stages, it is less aggressive than SCLC. The overall life expectancy for NSCLC is 11-13 months, according to a 2020 study.
NSCLC can also be classified into several subtypes, and each subtype has its own life expectancy.
- Adenocarcinoma: 6.8-10.6 months
- Large cell carcinoma: 11-14.2 months
- Squamous cell carcinoma: 10.1-12.9 months
The life expectancy for NSCLC also varies depending on if metastasis (cancer spread) has occurred. Metastatic NSCLC is also considered stage 4 lung cancer and here, the cancer has spread to many other parts of the body.
Stage 4 NSCLC is very aggressive and long-term survival is poor. 25% to 30% of patients with stage 4 NSCLC die within 3 months of diagnosis, according to a 2021 study from the medical journal Frontiers in Oncology. However, the remaining patients with stage 4 NSCLC actually lived for over 23 months on average.
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Small Cell Lung Cancer Life Expectancy
SCLC is much less common than NSCLC and also much more aggressive.
That said, the life expectancy for SCLC has a wider range (7-16 months) compared to NSCLC. The reason for this range is that patients can live longer if they’re diagnosed before the cancer has spread.
There are two stages for SCLC:
- Limited-stage SCLC, which has a life expectancy of 12-16 months
- Extensive-stage SCLC, which has a life expectancy of 7-11 months
Doctors can determine which stage a patient is in and provide a lung cancer life expectancy at the time of diagnosis.
What Affects Lung Cancer Life Expectancy?
Besides the cancer’s stage and location, other risk factors can affect lung cancer life expectancy.
These factors include:
- Patient age: Older adults are more likely to have lower lung cancer life expectancies. A study from the journal Oncology Letters revealed that elderly patients had significantly poorer health outcomes.
- Patient health: Patients in better overall health at the time of diagnosis are likely to be able to undergo surgery, which may help them live longer. They may also tolerate radiation therapy and chemotherapy better. Patients with heart and lung problems generally have poor prognoses when they develop lung cancer.
- Patient sex: Women with lung cancer generally have slightly better outcomes than men with the same type of lung cancer.
- Stage of cancer: People with advanced-stage lung cancer that has spread to lymph nodes and distant body parts typically have worse life expectancies.
How Treatments Improve Lung Cancer Life Expectancy
Arguably the best way to improve life expectancy is to undergo lung cancer treatments. These treatments allow doctors to remove or shrink cancer tumors, delaying the cancer’s spread or potentially curing patients altogether.
Commonly used lung cancer treatments include:
- Surgery removes the lung cancer tumor along with part or all of a lung.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Patients can take them orally or through a vein in the arm. Doctors often use chemotherapy after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy uses energy beams from protons and X-rays to kill cancer cells. Doctors often use it along with chemotherapy and surgery.
- Targeted drug therapy blocks mutations found in cancer cells, causing them to die. Doctors typically use targeted drug therapy to treat advanced or recurrent lung cancer (which has come back).
- Immunotherapy drugs boost the immune system to fight cancer. Providers usually give immunotherapy to people with locally advanced lung cancers and cancers that have spread to other body parts.
Most of the previously listed lung cancer life expectancy figures account for the patient getting treated.
What Is the Lung Cancer Life Expectancy Without Treatment?
Lung cancer life expectancy without treatment is usually poor.
- NSCLC patients who did not receive treatment only had an average life expectancy of 7.15 months, according to the medical journal Systematic Reviews.
- Untreated SCLC patients live for 2-4 months, as noted by a study from the journal Breathe.
Thus, it’s very important to get treated for lung cancer. Without treatment, you’ll have a very poor life expectancy. Learn more about affording treatments with a free case review.
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Lung Cancer Survivors
While lung cancer life expectancy statistics aren’t very encouraging, there are many long-term survivors. Lung cancer survivors have long outlived average life expectancies, becoming becaons of hope for others diagnosed.
- Deborah, 23-year lung cancer survivor
- David, 21-year lung cancer survivor
- Jim, 18-year lung cancer survivor
- Emily, 11-year lung cancer survivor
Survivors like these should remind you that your life expectancy is just that: an expectation. It’s not definite and you may live much longer.
Help for Patients After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Receiving a lung cancer diagnosis can change your life and your family’s life forever. That’s where Lung Cancer Group comes in.
If you developed lung cancer, we can help you find justice and financial aid. The money we can secure for you can help pay for treatments that can improve your overall survival and quality of life.
Get started with our team right now with a free case review.
Lung Cancer Life Expectancy FAQs
How long can you live after being diagnosed with lung cancer?
Most lung cancer patients live 7-16 months after being diagnosed. However, lung cancer life expectancy depends on your health, sex, cancer type, cancer stage, and whether you were diagnosed before the cancer spread.
It may be possible to live for decades with lung cancer after a diagnosis depending on the specifics of your case.
Is lung cancer curable?
Early-stage lung cancer is curable if you get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Patients whose lung cancer is considered cured have the best life expectancies.
Those diagnosed in the later stages typically can’t be cured and will have shorter average life expectancies.
Is lung cancer always fatal?
While lung cancer life expectancies are often poor, this cancer is not always fatal. You can improve your life expectancy by getting diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.
Book an appointment with your health care provider immediately if you might have lung cancer.
What is the lung cancer mortality rate?
Mortality rate is how many people die from a certain cause. According to the American Cancer Society’s cancer statistics, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. 1 in 4 cancer deaths are caused by lung cancer.
How can I improve my lung cancer life expectancy?
You can improve your lung cancer life expectancy by getting diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation all play a role in helping patients live longer. Further, an early diagnosis may mean that the cancer hasn’t spread far, which will give you more treatment options.