Lung cancer is the most common cancer-related cause of death in the U.S., with an estimated 158,000 deaths occurring in 2016. Lung cancer survival rates are based on population averages and the percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer who are still alive after being diagnosed.
Five-year survival rates
The survival rate is usually given as a period of five years, i.e., the percentage of people who live at least five years after being diagnosed with cancer. However, the numbers cannot tell how long a person will live as they are based on a large number of people who had the disease, many of whom lived much longer than five years after the diagnosis.
Data from 1975 to 2013 revealed that the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is much lower ( with 17.7 percent) compared to other types of cancer, such as colon cancer (64.4 percent survival rate) or breast cancer (89.7 percent survival rate).
When lung cancer is in its early stages, i.e., localized in the lungs, the five-year survival rate is much higher (55 percent). However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed in early stages. More than half of people diagnosed with lung cancer eventually die within one year of being diagnosed.
As cancer treatments become more effective, newly diagnosed patients have a better chance of survival.
Survival rates by type of lung cancer
Looking in more detail at the subtypes of lung cancer, i.e., non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC), the five-year survival rates are slightly different and vary with the stage of the cancer. The survival rate is higher in early stages (above 45 percent in NSCLC and about 30 percent in SCLC), and as the disease progresses and spreads to other parts of the body (late stages) the survival rates are much lower (about one percent in NSCLC and two percent in SCLC).
Survival rate by age
Lung cancer survival rates also are higher in younger men and women. For example, during 2009-2013, the 5-year survival rate in England was 42 percent in young men (ages 15-39 39 years) compared to six percent in elderly men (ages 80-99). In women, the difference ranged from 48 percent to 7 percent for the same age groups.
Cost of lung cancer and screening strategies
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimated that lung cancer care cost the U.S. 13.4 billion dollars associated with a loss of productivity due to early death from lung cancer. If screening and early detection of lung cancer are done, then survival rates can improve dramatically because cancers in early stages can be treated more successfully. One way is to screen individuals considered at high risk using low-dose CT-scans. A 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that screening with low-dose CT scans is more effective and may reduce mortality by 20 percent compared to chest X-rays.
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